Former Maryland Del. Michael D. “Mike” Smigiel Sr., a Republican whose ardent support for gun rights and the death penalty gained him respect without costing him the affection of his Democratic colleagues, died Sunday of heart disease. He was 64.
Smigiel, an attorney and retired Marine, represented the Upper Shore in the House of Delegates from 2003 to 2015.
In 2013, the Democratic-led General Assembly abolished the death penalty and set licensing requirements for would-be handgun purchasers over vocal opposition from Smigiel, who served on the House Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who was a fellow member of the House panel, said she found in Smigiel a dear friend as strident in his positions as she was in hers.
“We were the odd couple,” Carter said Tuesday, noting that Smigiel was a conservative, heavyset white man and she is a liberal, smaller Black woman. “(But) we were twins. We had such similar spirits.”
Carter also recalled Smigiel as her biggest coach and cheerleader on the committee despite their disparate political positions.
“He made you believe that you could do everything,” Carter said. “He was one of the most lovable, big-hearted people.”
Former Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., who chaired the committee, said Smigiel was his liaison to the panel’s Republican minority and could be counted on to be fair and cooperative — to a point.
“He was part of my background group and worked effectively across the aisle for his positions and party,” said Vallario, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “He was the voice of the opposition that we could talk to.”
Former Del. Luiz Simmons, who also served with Smigiel on the Judiciary Committee, echoed Vallario.
“Mike was very conservative but he was also very open-minded,” said Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat. “He was not as constrained by ideology as others.”
For example, Simmons said the Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was Smigiel’s “consuming passion” but he was not beyond compromise, limited though it may have been on this issue.
“You would never cross him off the list” of potential legislative allies, Simmons said “Even on the gun bills.”
Smigiel opposed the General Assembly’s 2012 enactment of legislation allowing same-sex marriage. Smigiel said the state should not put its imprimatur on same-sex unions but rather provide marriage-equivalent benefits for same-sex couples in committed relationships, such as the right of survivorship.
He later voiced disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, saying the issue should be left to the states.
“Everyone has a fundamental right to love who they choose to love, but can the state be forced to recognize that?” said Smigiel, “To say that every state has to put this into effect is a great blow to the 10th Amendment and state’s rights.”
Sen. Stephen S. “Steve” Hershey Jr., a Republican who represented legislative district 36 with Smigiel, recalled his former colleague as “a committed and uncompromising supporter of our Constitution.”
“It was captivating to watch him on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates,” Hershey said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Mike passionately believed one was never a former Marine, but always a Marine. Our county, our state, and our communities shall always remain thankful and appreciative of Mike’s dedicated service.”
Smigiel’s dozen years in the House ended after he finished fourth in the 2014 Republican primary, in which only the top three vote-getters advanced to the General Election.
Undaunted by that defeat, Smigiel ran unsuccessfully against incumbent U.S. Rep. Andy Harris in the 2016 Republican primary. Later that year, he applied for vacant judgeships on the Cecil County circuit and district courts.
“We’ll put it in God’s hands and see what God thinks,” Smigiel said at the time. “He didn’t want me to be a congressman.”
Smigiel, who was passed over for the judgeships, continued to focus on his solo law practice in Elkton.
Attorney Irwin R. Kramer, who often served as Smigiel’s co-counsel since they first more than 25 years ago, recalled him as always “well prepared and extremely dedicated to his clients” and unconcerned whether he would receive a fee.
“He would take cases that often didn’t pay that much or anything if he believed in the cause,” Kramer said.
“Mike was drawn by a higher calling,” added Kramer, of Kramer & Connolly in Reisterstown. “Status meant nothing to him. He would treat everyone fairly.”
The Smigiel family said memorial services will be private.
The family also released a farewell letter Smigiel wrote: “My family, my friends, please smile, my love. Remember me not in tears but in kind words, laughs, and smiles. Exchange stories and break bread, toast me goodbye. Look up and you will see me dancing in the stars. Semper fi.”