ANNAPOLIS – Delegate Herbert McMillan would rather be heard than just seen — a public posture that discomfited his colleagues during the 2004 General Assembly session and broke the norm for typical first-term lawmakers.
“I’ve just decided I’m going to say what I think,” he said. “People are better served by that.”
McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, reprised his role this session as one of the most outspoken lawmakers – one with an independent streak and a tendency to use amendments to give new life to dead bills.
“He speaks on lots of bills, but there’s a time and a place,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County. “It marginalizes him in terms of being effective.”
Most first-term legislators sit quietly in their seats during floor debates. During this year’s Assembly session, McMillan offered at least 12 floor amendments to four bills and spoke on several others.
Some of the amendments were identical to his bills to bar illegal immigrants from getting drivers’ licenses and cap tuition increases without increasing university funding, both of which died in committee.
“I think the conventional wisdom down here is . . . don’t miss the opportunity to listen for a while to learn how the process works,” said Minority Whip Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert. “But someone with that level of experience and background you would expect to be a little more engaged in the process.”
The 45-year-old McMillan’s experience and background include a four-year stint on the Annapolis City Council, graduation from the Naval Academy and more than 11 years on active duty. He lost the 2001 Annapolis mayoral race to Ellen Moyer after defeating Republican incumbent Dean Johnson in the primary.
McMillan, a pilot for American Airlines with four children, said he learned hard work from his father, who held several jobs to pay for Catholic education for his seven children. He does not consider himself a politician and said his interest in politics arose from a general desire to voice the concerns of the average Marylander.
“I really felt I might have something to contribute,” McMillan said. “I was quite frustrated with our system.”
McMillan’s wife, Kathy, said he has wanted to go into public service since a young age. One day she found a third-grade journal of his, in which he had written that “Abraham Lincoln was a great leader” and “I’m going to be one too someday.”
“It was odd to me that someone that age would write about that,” Kathy McMillan said.
McMillan made bipartisan allegiances while on the City Council, picking up Democratic endorsements in his run for mayor and support from the firefighters’ union.
“He was an excellent alderman. He’s very sincere,” said Democratic Alderwoman Louise Hammond, who served with McMillan on the council. “He didn’t play these games with the party lines.”
McMillan is an admirer of Republican former President Ronald Reagan, and he keeps a picture of slain Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in his wallet, his family says.
McMillan broke the Democratic hold on District 30 in Anne Arundel County by defeating incumbent Richard D’Amato in 2002. He now shares a district with House Speaker Michael Busch, who taught history to McMillan’s wife, Kathy, in high school.
He’s been ruffling feathers since he arrived in the General Assembly, but this year’s unsettling issue particularly controversial: his proposed ban on drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants.
Average Americans don’t want illegal immigrants to have licenses because that could threaten national security, McMillan said. That was made painfully clear when it turned out some of the 9/11 hijackers had Virginia licenses, he said.
McMillan had flown with Charles Burlingame, the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. He also knew victims in the Pentagon who worked in the Naval Command Center.
“I saw what happened when you kind of let common sense go in the name of compassion,” he said.
The Assembly reviewed a package of immigrant bills, one of which led to a scuffle between a delegate and immigrant activists outside a committee hearing.
When McMillan isn’t flying to Paris or Rome on the weekends when the General Assembly is in session, he is fighting against legislation he believes will hurt his constituents – including Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s $237 million transportation bill, which raised money largely through an increase in vehicle registration fees. He was one of two Republicans to vote against it.
“I just really felt like that fee was a tax and it was too much for people on fixed incomes to bear,” he said. “Party to me has always been less important than your principles.”
Morhaim, McMillan’s jogging partner during the session, said he respects his colleague’s principles, but they do not need to be voiced on the House floor so often.
“We all have strong opinions,” Morhaim said. “Just because he expresses his at every opportunity doesn’t mean other people aren’t equally concerned.”
Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, debates with McMillan on Maryland Public Television’s “State Circle.” She said she appreciates vocal and opinionated lawmakers, but thinks McMillan needs to temper his desire to speak so often.
“I think there’s some value in silence and learning, but I do think you have to moderate it,” Gladden said. “I’m not sure Herb’s done that.”
It’s not clear that he can, said his sister-in-law and neighbor, Cary Dion. The McMillans and Dions have dinner together on Sunday nights and some sort of argument usually arises, she said.
“There’s always confrontation, always debate,” Dion said. “My husband and him go at it. He’s no different at home than he is as a politician.”