ANNAPOLIS – Every night, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. scans the newspapers for issues that need attention.
Between his office of 12 years and now as the next chairman of the national Senate Presidents’ Forum, Miller knows that monitoring and identifying key topics is imperative to a state’s success.
“I try to look for ideas that resonate with the public and whose time has come,” he said in a recent interview. “It is usually something we have to address, because they are ideas of the time.”
The forum was created four years ago to give the 50 state senate leaders an opportunity to address issues that have affected or will affect their states. Miller was appointed chair by Colorado Senate President Thomas Norton and Virginia Senate Pro Tempore Stanley Walker at the forum’s last meeting in Beaver Creek, Colo.
“Mike is an exceptional and talented legislator who I knew would make a good leader,” Walker said. “He is a people’s person with an extensive knowledge of the legislative process.”
The forum plays a crucial role in the exchange of ideas.
“You get a front row seat on what is happening in other states,” Walker said.
Twice a year, senators spend two days discussing possible strategies and attending informational seminars on pre-determined topics.
“Maryland is about 10 years behind trends in some states and 20 years ahead in others,” Miller said. “We take this opportunity to learn from our sister states, figuring it will eventually occur in the state of Maryland…. The issues we are dealing with are red hot.”
But the key is to follow up on the ideas gathered, he said.
Electric deregulation was a topic at one forum, and because of Miller’s subsequent efforts, a state task force was created to study retail competition.
Miller said senators consistently discuss ways to improve upon Senate chambers. It was at the forum where Miller had the idea to automate the Maryland chamber’s floor for the 1999 General Assembly session. The computerization, which is being considered in 14 other states, would give senators access to their constituents and information during policy debates.
Miller said he has learned through the forum that it takes a strong leader to follow an idea to the end, but that compromise is always necessary.
“A leader’s job is to determine where we can be, where we should be and encourage others to go that way,” he said. “But we have to work hand in hand with the Senate and representative organizations so that our efforts dovetail at just the right time.”
Miller’s two-year term at the forum’s helm begins at the next meeting in February, when members will address the problems of long-term health care and Medicaid reform. -30-