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Miller vows to soldier on

Senate president acknowledges treatment for worsening prostate cancer

Miller vows to soldier on

Senate president acknowledges treatment for worsening prostate cancer

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The longest-serving leader of the Maryland Senate vowed Thursday to continue to serve as president even as he faces one of his toughest challenges.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. announced Thursday morning that he is being treated for prostate cancer and will undergo chemotherapy during the session.

Senate President Pro Tem Kathy Klausmeier and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., during Miller’s swearing-in Wednesday. (File photo)
Senate President Pro Tem Kathy Klausmeier and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., during Miller’s swearing-in Wednesday. (File photo)

“It’s a recent diagnosis,” Miller told the gathering of current and former senators and former members of his staff.

Miller Thursday continued to stress the importance of the Senate over himself as he spoke for the first time publicly about his cancer diagnosis.

“But we have business to take care of,” Miller said. “It should not be about me. It should be about the Senate and the work we’re going to do.”

For over three decades Miller’s name and the chamber he presides over became inextricably linked. It has been said that his power is so expansive that he has 24 votes — the minimum number needed to pass a bill in the Senate — for anything, including burning down the State House

Miller, a Democrat and also the longest-serving state Senate president in the United States, has appeared tired at times over the past few weeks.

In a statement Thursday, he described “struggling with pain management” in recent months from back pain from a hip replacement that has left one leg slightly shorter than the other and from a knee replacement he said “never seemed to heal appropriately.”

He received a series of shots that he said failed to address his “debilitating pain issues.”

In July, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and treated with medication.

By late December his condition changed when he said he awoke with a sharp pain in his leg. A series of tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital revealed that the cancer had not responded to the current treatment. Chemotherapy would be required for a cancer now described as “aggressive.”

One of those treatments earlier this week caused him to miss an annual pre-legislative Democratic Party luncheon.

Information about the stage of his cancer, whether it had spread to other parts of his body and an overall prognosis were not immediately available.

“I have been told that in spite of my treatments, I will be fully able to join my colleagues and preside this session,” Miller wrote.

On Wednesday, he was sworn in and chosen to be the chamber’s president for the 33rd year.

Should Miller need to be absent, Senate President Pro Tem Kathy Klausmeier, D-Baltimore, would step in.

“I’m very saddened by the circumstances,” Klausmeier said. “I hope the whole world will keep praying for the great president of our Senate.

Klausmeier said she was prepared to “do whatever (Miller) needs me to do but I don’t think I’ll do quite the job he does.”

Miller is the latest of the three top political leaders in Maryland to be treated for significant health issues.

In 2015, Gov. Larry Hogan underwent treatment for an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He later announced he was in remission.

House Speaker Michael Busch has undergone two major surgeries in the last two years, including a liver transplant in 2017 and an emergency bypass procedure last year.

Miller’s illness will inevitably start speculation about successors as Busch’s has in the House of Delegates.

A colorful career

The colorful politician and oldest of 10 children, Miller often has said he learned to serve others working at his family store in Clinton — B.K. Miller Super Liquors.

His career in elected politics dates back to 1970, when he was first elected to the House. He once described himself as a dumb kid who didn’t take the time to read the book of House rules — procedures that govern the flow of legislation.

The story is ironic given his mastery of the rules of the Senate and Miller’s ability to pass, kill, resurrect and even conjure bills unexpectedly in the waning days of sessions.

In 1974, he was elected to the Senate and became president of the chamber in 1987.

During that time Miller has presided over a significant changes in state law including landmark education funding legislation in 2002.

He opposed same-sex marriage and, for a time, eliminating the death penalty in Maryland but ultimately allowed legislation to be passed in his chamber on both issues.

Over the years as Miller’s red curly locks have transitioned to silver, he repeatedly demonstrated an ability to control his chamber, build coalitions, and withstand an attempt to overthrow him as the leader of the Senate.

In 2000, Miller survived an attempt to oust him from the rostrum by former Sen. Thomas “Tommy” Bromwell.

And while charming and funny, the Senate president could also be physically and verbally imposing.

He once pushed Blair Lee IV, who worked as a lobbyist for Prince George’s County, against a wall and told him to back off a bill.

In 2012, he forced two special sessions by failing to finalize a state budget over an expansion of casinos. The doomsday budget scenario resulted in two special sessions, one to pass a budget and a second that resulted in passage of gaming legislation that created the MGM Casino at National Harbor.

“One thing is clear, I created gambling in the state of Maryland,” Miller said during an event Wednesday sponsored by The Daily Record. “That might be my legacy — good, bad.”

A life after the Senate

It was not a given that Miller would continue in public service. In 2006, he told reporters he would like not seek re-election. Since then, he has been re-elected three more times.

In an interview with The Daily Record a week before he announced his illness, Miller discussed his career and his future.

Sitting in his corner office, Miller expressed a desire to continue to serve but acknowledged he thinks about life outside the public arena.

“Absolutely,” Miller said. “Every day.”

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