Nearly 200 people tuned in Sept. 15 – International Day of Democracy – to participate in the College of Southern Maryland’s (CSM) and St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s (SMCM) leadership and voter education series entitled ‘Informed, Engaged, Empowered = Ready – Set – VOTE!’ to inaugurate the Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Center for Leadership.
The live webinar included commentary about bi-partisanship from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and an intimate conversation between Maryland Senate President Emeritus Mike Miller, a panel of college students, and the audience about the senator’s life in politics and his take on the current political climate.
Messages of Bi-partisanship
“I am so pleased to join you today for this inaugural event of the Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Center for Leadership at the College of Southern Maryland,” shared Hogan, a Republican, in a message recorded for the evening’s event. “Since taking office in 2015, it has been a privilege to serve alongside my good friend Senate President Emeritus Mike Miller.”
Labelling Miller a “strong unifying leader for the legislature and for the state,” Hogan went on to explain that while he and Miller come from different sides of the political aisle, they have often found ways to come together in the best interest for the people of Maryland.
“On this International Day of Democracy, let’s each resolve to follow Mike’s great example,” Hogan added, “to continue putting problem-solving ahead of partisanship, compromise ahead of conflict, and to finding that common ground where we can all stand together.”
“I am 13 years older than Governor Hogan,” Miller laughed after the video played. “I was 18 and he was 5 years old when I worked for his father. Our love for this state has always superseded our love for our [political] party.”
A native son of Clinton, Md., Miller referred to himself as “just a local fellow and a student of history,” who continues to feel honored and privileged at having been the longest-serving state Senate president in Maryland history and in the United States. A member of the Maryland State Senate since 1975, Miller served as senate president from 1987 until January 2020 when he was named Senate President Emeritus. He continues to serve in the Senate, representing District 27.
“My mother was a history teacher and I was one of 10 children,” he shared with the attendees. “I learned about history every single day. We would travel all over the region – Bull Run, Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Annapolis – to learn history. I am able to deal with today’s issues based on how prior, great leaders handled things in the past. You can come up with appropriate responses [by studying history.]”
Miller said politics are in a season of change – mostly on Capitol Hill – which he referred to as “broken.”
“Here in Maryland, unlike Capitol Hill, we have a Republican governor who put in a budget and all 47 members for the senate voted for it,” Miller pointed out. “There is something there that everyone doesn’t like. There is something there that everyone likes, too. All 33 Democrats and all 14 Republicans voted for it because it is the right thing to do. It’s about teamwork, camaraderie, having shared goals and it’s about working together.
“That’s what the people have forgotten about on Capitol Hill,” he continued. “On Capitol Hill, it’s about the political party: the ‘I,’ the ‘you,’ the ‘person’ – instead of what’s best for the country. Hopefully, that will never happen here in Maryland.”
On Leadership: “Attack the Issues, Not Each Other”
Miller joined CSM and SMCM student leaders Reanna Robinson, Verkia Smith, Humacao Sanchez Santos, and Calvin Ryan to share thoughts on leadership, unity, and the future of American democracy in conversations moderated by SMCM Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy Dr. Antonio Ugues and CSM Communication Professor Denise Gilmer-Knudson, who has been awarded the Miller Center’s Distinguished Professor for Leadership.
Miller said the key to successful leadership is to be a responsible person, have integrity, and do work with enthusiasm.
“The buck does stop on your desk,” he said. “You’re the leader and you make the decisions. You don’t alibi. You accept the bad things that come your way as your fault. You have to have integrity and enthusiasm and you have to communicate that you enjoy what you do.
“I hire people smarter than me,” he laughed. “If we’re successful, it’s their fault; if we’re not successful, it’s my fault.”
“Hearing [these messages] from the governor and Senator Miller – we can adopt their skills,” said Robinson. “We need not be single-minded and we need to find a middle ground to move forward together. We need to attack the issues, not each other.”
“What resonates with me is that we need to apply the principles of good communication and compassion in every aspect of life,” said Sanchez
“These small intimate conversations are the starting point to get the gears going on those larger conversations that start to produce the change in which we the people want to see,” shared Smith. “We need to invite the idea of humility and self-reflection with open arms so that we can use it as a tool in our education process.
“Senator Miller and Governor Hogan have both accomplished so much by ‘reaching across the aisle,’ and we must continue discussions and raising awareness to respectfully bridge the divides within our wonderful nation to create one community for the common good,” Smith continued. “Allow yourself to be a puzzle piece within our ambitious world and use your power to vote for the better of all people.”
“An intrinsic value and idea about what democracy is all about is bringing people together of different backgrounds, and different orientations,” shared Ryan. “In order to do this, effective communication and a sense of active listening is very important. As elementary as that may sound, it is very crucial to operate and to have an effective conversation to lead to results and what we hope to accomplish as one body. It is also important to recognize and acknowledge the many different identities that make up our state and our nation.
“It is really up to our generation – my generation – to continue this dialogue, this reaching across the aisle,” Ryan added. “We should not shy away from conversations and broader initiatives no matter how difficult they may be.”
When asked which compromise of which he was most proud, Miller reflected on all of his compromises.
“Capital punishment, abortion, busing, taxes – we’ve had to compromise and collaborate on every single issue,” he explained. “It is not easy. The price of greatness is responsibility.”
Accolades for Miller
“The 2020 presidential election is marked by an increasing divisiveness between Republicans and Democrats that is of great concern to many,” said CSM’s Executive Director of Equity and Inclusive Diversity Dr. Sybol Anderson, who moderated a portion of the webinar. “While political differences also exist at the state level, the approach of Maryland leaders to navigating those differences is noticeably different. As CSM launches the Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. Center for Leadership, we recognize the leadership of Maryland Senate President Emeritus Mike Miller and his longtime friend Gov. Larry Hogan in steering the state of Maryland through treacherous political waters using their skills in effective bi-partisanship.”
CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy said the College of Southern Maryland is living testimony to Miller’s belief in – and success with – compromise.
“More than 20 years ago he worked to bring our three counties—Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s—together to form the College of Southern Maryland as a regional college,” Murphy shared. “I believe he called it ‘hell on wheels!’ Actually, I’ve heard stories that, after a year or more of back and forth, that Senator Miller threatened to lock all three sets of county commissioners in his office and not let them out until they came to agreement. That may be hyperbole, but it underscores Mike’s passion for the College of Southern Maryland, most specifically the students.”
Murphy emphasized Miller’s dedication to students.
“Senator Miller always has time for our students, on his campus visits, at the annual Veteran’s or Legislative breakfasts, and most significantly, at our annual Student Advocacy Day in Annapolis,” she continued. “During the 2019 Legislative session, on Student Advocacy Day, I took a group of CSM students to the gallery to watch the Senate in progress. Our own Senate President Miler saw us enter and stopped the proceedings to recognize us. More than that, he asked Senators (Jack) Bailey and (Arthur) Ellis, who also represent Southern Maryland, to speak to us. Our students were thrilled, over the moon really, and on the way home, one declared his intention to become Senator Miller’s chief of staff someday.
“You’d better watch out,” she said to SMCM President Dr. Tuajuanda Jordan. “This student transferred to St. Mary’s College.”
“I cannot think of a better paragon of bi-partisan leadership and service to the citizenry than Senator Mike Miller,” said Jordan. “Nor I do believe that there is a more appropriate time than right now to shepherd in a series of events focused on leadership and what is required to ensure that our citizens become informed and feel empowered to engage in processes that move humankind closer to creating a more just and equitable society for all. The stars are aligning.
Jordan cited Miller’s ‘visionary leadership’ to establish SMCM as the state’s and nation’s first public honors college in 1992.
“The mission set for the college: To provide a liberal arts education akin to that found in elite private institutions that is accessible, affordable and committed to diversity was unique and challenging,” Jordan said. “More importantly, it provided the opportunity for a premier liberal arts education for all Marylanders who wanted one. It is primarily due to the senator’s leadership acumen that the legislation made it through.”
The ‘Informed, Engaged, Empowered = Ready – Set – VOTE!’ series continues with a National Voter Registration Day virtual event Sept. 22 hosted by the Calvert County League of Women Voters entitled “Your Vote. Your Choice. Your Future.” On Oct. 8, CSM and SMCM will virtually host “A Pledge to Truth and Civility” that focuses on the need for media literacy and civility in public discourse and an Oct. 22 event entitled, “Liberty and Justice for All? The History of Voting Rights in America.” The series concludes Nov. 10 with “Indivisible: A Post Election Debrief.”
The Sept. 22 and Nov. 10 events are for CSM and SMCM’s student, faculty and staff. The other events are open to the public.