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Next in Line for the Senate, Most Likely: Del. Michael Jackson

Del. Michael A. Jackson (D-Prince George’s). Facebook photo.

Michael A. Jackson was walking through the State House lobby one day in 2012 when he ran into then-Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). Miller, Jackson recalled Wednesday, invited him to his office for a chat.

The conversation would change Jackson’s life ― and the trajectory of his political career.

Jackson, a former Prince George’s County sheriff, was two years removed at that point from an unsuccessful run for county executive, and was working for the administration of then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D). Miller told Jackson that during the upcoming round of legislative redistricting, a new House subdistrict would be carved out of his Senate district, and urged him to run for the seat in 2014.

“When he did that, I was like, that’s Joe Vallario’s spot,” Jackson said in an interview, referring to the veteran lawmaker who was then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “And he said, ‘well, Joe may be moving.'”

Vallario was placed in another district, and Jackson won the seat, handily, in 2014. He rose quickly in the House, where he now serves as vice chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

But with Miller’s announcement Wednesday that he is immediately ending his unparalleled 51-year legislative career, Jackson has quickly emerged as his likely successor in the Senate. Jackson told Maryland Matters that he will apply to fill the vacancy.

“You move to the next challenge, and the next challenge is the upper chamber,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity I can’t pass on.”

Because Miller’s Senate district touches three counties ― Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s ― the Democratic central committees in all three counties have a say over his successor. They could collectively send one name to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) for consideration for the appointment, which all but obligates Hogan to name that person, or they can send different names, providing Hogan with a choice. Either way, the governor has the final word.

During his video news conference Wednesday announcing his plans to retire, Miller referred obliquely to the succession process.

“The committees will make a recommendation about who should take my spot,” he said.

But a handful of informed sources in Annapolis and Prince George’s County said Wednesday that Miller has privately signaled his support for Jackson to succeed him ― and may publicly urge the three county Democratic organizations and Hogan to support him. Sources also said that the other House Democrat in Miller’s district, Del. Susie G. Proctor (D), also supports Jackson for the Senate seat.

Asked during a recent interview with Maryland Matters if any of his children intend to go into politics, as is occasionally rumored, Miller said no.

“I’m not encouraging anybody to go into it,” he said. “It’s a tough business. It’s a very tough business.”

Whether others will seek the appointment remains to be seen. Prince George’s County Councilmembers Sydney J. Harrison (D) and Mel Franklin (D) live in the 27th legislative district, but they seem ensconced in Upper Marlboro. Franklin was among the scores of political leaders who paid tribute to Miller Wednesday.

“He has always made me and those of us forever on the District 27 Team feel like family, because to him, that’s what we are,” he said in a statement.

Jackson argued that he would be a good fit for the Senate seat because he represents parts of Calvert and Prince George’s counties in the House and lives close to the Charles County line. What’s more, he noted, he has already held a countywide position, during his eight years as Prince George’s sheriff, has a statewide perspective from his time as an official at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services during the O’Malley administration, and was vice chair of the Southern Maryland legislative delegation in Annapolis.

Most important, Jackson said, he has Miller’s long career to use as a model.

“The 27th legislative district has been synonymous with public service deliverance, and that’s our goal going forward,” he said.

Jackson said that while he knew Miller dating back to 1988, until he encountered the Senate president in the State House that day in 2012, he hadn’t imagined a legislative career for himself. He had come to the State House to lobby, as a Fraternal Order of Police lodge leader in the 1990s and as sheriff from 2003 to 2011, but “I never thought I’d want to sit at that side of the table” alongside other lawmakers.

If Jackson, who is 56, is elevated to the Senate, there will then be intrigue about who replaces him in the House ― and about who will get the plum post of Appropriations Committee vice chair.

In interviews, several Prince George’s County Democrats said there are no obvious replacements for Jackson if he moves on to the Senate.

But this turn of events is just the latest example of how quickly change has come to the General Assembly.

“It’s a good time for me to be stepping down, quite frankly,” Miller observed Wednesday.

Bruce DePuyt contributed to this report.

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Next in Line for the Senate, Most Likely: Del. Michael Jackson