Last week a remarkable thing happened in Southern Maryland: We denizens of some of the most beautiful tidal land in the state lost some of the political power we greatly benefited from in the Maryland Senate.
After 33 years of wielding near complete control over that chamber, and the legislation that it passed — or killed — Sen. Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., a Calvert County resident and champion of all things Southern Maryland, passed the baton to a 36-year-old senator from Baltimore, Bill Ferguson. Compared to Miller, Ferguson is a relative newcomer to Maryland politics, having won his Senate seat in 2010 by beating longtime Sen. George W. Della Jr. who had been in the seat since 1982. Senate Democrats will, of course, have to vote Ferguson in to the position at the start of the legislative session in January alongside their much-fewer-in-number Republican colleagues. The Senate Democratic caucus voted unanimously on his selection last week, so the vote in January is just a formality.
The “baby senator,” as Miller called him when he entered the chamber at 27, was just 3 years old when Miller picked up the Senate chamber’s gavel for the first time. Now, in less than three months, he will begin wielding that same gavel Miller so deftly used to better Southern Maryland and the state.
We can’t help but think that we are losing something here in the southern reaches of the Western Shore. Baltimore’s needs aren’t necessarily our needs. And it hardly needs to be said that the new leader will be looking toward Charm City and its cosmopolitan population for cues, not his more rural brethren encamped on the peninsulas that make up Southern Maryland.
We hope the new leader can do as Miller did, watch out for his own backyard but extend a hand to his neighbors, and the people down the street, or in our case down the highway. And listen to voices outside the cacophony of the city.
Teachers will be glad to know that Ferguson spent two years in that calling and is still involved in education both in his day job at Johns Hopkins University, where he’s the director of reform initiatives in the School of Education, and in his role as member of the Kirwan Commission, also known as the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. That commission is proposing a sizable boost in spending for public education around the state, to the tune of nearly $4 billion a year, assuming all recommendations are eventually passed into law.
Beginning in January, Ferguson will be in the unique position of shepherding his own recommendations through the Maryland Senate as its most powerful member. We hope he’s willing to listen to a wide variety of voices concerning those recommendations and not just those in the education establishment, of which he is a part.
The Baltimore region is going to figure yet more prominently in the state’s lawmaking and spending starting next year. Back in April, Baltimore County Del. Adrienne Jones, also a member of the Kirwan Commission, was elevated to speaker of the House of Delegates upon the death of fellow Democrat Michael Busch in April.
So in January, we’ll begin to see how the balance of power has shifted, and whether it works to serve us all. Whatever unfolds, we can certainly expect a bit more focus on Baltimore.
We wish Miller the best for his health and happiness, but we will sorely miss his steady hand on the gavel which he wielded effectively for such a long period, ultimately becoming the longest serving Senate president in this country’s history. But we’re not saying goodbye yet. He’ll still be there representing Southern Maryland, and a sizable portion of our Prince George’s neighbors. And he’ll be there to help the young Senate leader learn that Maryland is much more than Baltimore, charming though it is.