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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Md. union declares ‘end to Miller time’

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. speaks Jan. 30 in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. speaks Jan. 30 in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

A union known for advocacy on progressive policies is placing a target on one of the biggest figures in Maryland politics.

Leaders of SEIU 500 have declared an “end to Miller time,” calling for a rally and hinting at an effort to oust longtime Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. The effort is the latest chapter in a long-simmering feud that appears to be close to boiling over from the perspective of the union.

Miller, in an interview, said he didn’t know the leaders of the union

Mark McLaurin, political director for SEIU 500, declined to comment on the rally in Lawyers Mall set for Monday afternoon as the General Assembly enters the final hours of the 2018 session. He did, however, acknowledge the danger in taking on Miller, one of the three most powerful men in state politics.

“At some point, you have to fight back,” McLaurin said. “What really do we have to lose? Is he going to kill our bills? He’s been killing our bills for five years. Is he going to ban us from the Annapolis city limits?”

Part of that fight could include targeting Miller, who already has a primary challenger. McLaurin declined to elaborate on the union’s plans. A statement issued later in the day said Monday’s events would outline “electoral priorities and strategy for General Assembly races in the 2018 election and beyond.”

The event next week is the latest dust-up between the group Miller called “a renegade union” and the longest-serving Senate leader both in Maryland history and currently in the country.

McLaurin, in a recent Facebook post, called Miller “a piece of human excrement.”

McLaurin deleted the post but Wednesday acknowledged he posted the comment and stood by it.

“I’m a big boy, I have my big-boy pants on,” McLaurin said.

The union in recent years has grown increasingly frustrated at the failure of a bill that would grant collective bargaining authority to adjunct college professors. That bill was withdrawn this year by Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard.

Miller Wednesday responded calmly, saying he had never heard of or met McLaurin.

“I wouldn’t know him if he walked in the office,” Miller said. “I know the union is targeting several of my members who are very progressive people and I think this is coming about as a misunderstanding, but I really don’t know because I’ve never talked to the man.”

Miller said he has supported union concerns, including collective bargaining and agency shop and educational issues.

“I have no problem at all recognizing those good people, letting them decide who their bargaining agents are going to be and moving forward on that,” Miller said. “Apparently, and I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth, they want every aspect of the college, from the lowest-paid employees to the highest-paid employees, to be able to organize and bargain and pay union dues. This isn’t about good government, this is about paying union dues to an organization.”

He also released a number of emails and letters of support to him in recent weeks from unions including AFSCME, the Building Trades and SEIU 1199, in which that group disavowed McLaurin’s undeleted personal attack on Miller.

Some on the far left of the Democratic Party are becoming impatient with entrenched institutional leaders such as Miller. Instead, the growing wing of progressives is pushing its own agenda and taking on Miller and others.

Some perceive that Miller is less powerful than he once was.

Miller, who has led the Senate for more than 30 years, has presided over a lot of change during his time on the rostrum.

But in recent years, some point to a number of failures they say show limits to his power that were not there previously, including the inability to elect then-Sen. Robert Garagiola to a congressional district Miller had drawn specifically for that purpose.

In additional to Miller, a number of his senior leadership team and other Democrats — Sens. Nathaniel McFadden, Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, Joan Carter Conway, Delores Kelley, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Barbara Robinson — are facing primary challenges, something insiders say would have never happened a decade ago.

Others say Miller is still a force to be reckoned with.

“Sure Miller is not as powerful as he once was, but that’s like saying the sun is not as hot as it once was. It’s still pretty hot,” said Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Eberly said the union effort is a sign of the times; a growing progressive wing of the party wants a more “in-your-face” style of politics than what it believes Miller is providing.

“There’s a growing sense among progressives that Miller doesn’t represent where the caucus or the party is going,” he said.

But Eberly said Miller has still managed to do just enough to not anger progressives in the Senate and “there is no one to look to if they wanted to attempt a coup.”

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