Another Sign of Changing Times: Floor Leader Mike Miller

Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) served as floor leader of a piece of legislation Tuesday for the first time since 1986. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

There were few things that irked former Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) more than seeing a colleague read off a cheat-sheet while addressing the chamber.

The legendary lawmaker, who presided over the Senate for a record 33 years, now sits in the fourth row, having relinquished the gavel at the start of the session to focus on his health.

If you served in the chamber during Miller’s tenure, he was certain to grab you by the arm at some point — usually in private, but not always — and inform you that if you’re assigned to serve as floor leader on a bill, you follow certain rules.

In rough order, Miller’s Rules are:

  • Know the bill
  • Know the amendments
  • Speak without notes
  • Scan the chamber as you speak
  • Believe in what you’re saying

Members of the Senate have filed 1,059 bills this session, and every one that makes it out of committee will get assigned a floor leader. (It’s often someone other than the sponsor.)

With only 47 members, there is plenty of work to go around, and over the course of a 90-day session, everyone — including the Senate’s minority Republicans — will get to serve as floor leader at some point.

On Tuesday, Miller himself rose to advocate on behalf of Senate Bill 431, a measure to create a tax-increment financing district in Charles County, which he represents.

A non-controversial “local” bill, SB 431 is typical of the legislation the General Assembly handles.

Like Steph Curry knocking back free-throws, Miller got up, described the bill and ran through the amendments — crisply and without notes, needless to say.

For Miller, this was the first time he defended a bill on the Senate floor since 1986, when he served as chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

“I move the adoption of the two amendments and the favorable committee report,” he concluded.

Only he wasn’t quite done.

Sensing an opportunity to have some fun, Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Harford), who has long had a close relationship with Miller, rose and was recognized.

“I have questions for the floor leader,” Jennings said, as laughter and mock “ooohs” echoed through the chamber.

“Does the floor leader yield for a question?” asked Miller’s successor, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), playing along.

“Certainly,” said Miller, well aware that a good razzing was coming.

“I first want to commend you,” Jennings began. “I guess this is your first floor report in, like, 30 years?” Loud applause and more laughs.

“Thirty years!” Miller responded.

“Well, you had perfect eye contact,” Jennings observed. “You didn’t read. (Big laughs.) You scanned the room. It was sincere. And you made us believe what you were doing. So I just wanted to commend you and congratulate you on your first floor report.”

“Thank you so much,” Miller responded. “It’s just an honor to be here. And it’s an honor to be able to speak on a bill. Thank you so much.”

Even though he’s president emeritus now, Miller still speaks often on the floor, rising frequently to offer a historic note, for example, or to urge colleagues to get their bills filed on time.

On Monday night, he praised Sen. Jason C. Gallion (R-Harford) for the way he crafted and delivered the chamber’s annual Lincoln Day address.

Gallion spoke with conviction and made strong contact, Miller said.

Gallion then rose to thank the “celebrity historian” who helped draft — and ultimately approved — his remarks.

It was Miller.

[email protected]

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.