Guest Commentary: Maryland Democrats Need a New Political Culture
By Tommi Makila
When I tell my fellow Democrats that I am running against state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. in the June primary, I often need to repeat what I am saying two or three times before it fully registers with people. It seems to be unfathomable that any Maryland Democrat would be crazy enough to challenge Miller.
Everyone who knows anything about politics in my area in southern Prince George’s County – the heart of Mike Miller territory – understands that if a person has political ambition, the surest path to elected office is to curry favor with Sen. Miller. Since everyone knows this is how politics works in our neck of the woods, why on earth would I want to challenge Miller?
The most obvious reason is the length of Miller’s tenure. He was first elected to the General Assembly in 1970. If he gets elected to another four-year term, he will have served in Annapolis for more than 50 years. In my view, that is way too long for one legislator to represent the area. We can surely find other capable people to represent us in the General Assembly. Miller has had decades to pursue his priorities, and it is time for someone else to work on his or her issues and hopefully bring some new ideas to Annapolis.
Of course, Mike Miller is not your run-of-the-mill state senator. He is the nation’s longest-serving Senate president, having been in that role continuously since 1987. When one serves in this kind of leadership role for such a long time, the person accumulates an incredible amount of power.
Whatever Miller considers a priority surely gets due consideration in the legislature. What legislation Miller wants to stop, he can stop. Having the same person wield such control over the legislative process in a state for more than three decades is undemocratic, unhealthy and simply unfair.
If I had any doubt about the amount of power Miller holds, it has been confirmed since I announced my candidacy. When I announced my campaign, overnight I became the most radioactive Democrat in the state. Local elected officials who know me well started to avoid me. Many Democratic Party activists tell me how thrilled they are that I am running, but very few of them are willing to have their names appear on my donor list.
The length of Miller’s tenure and the unhealthy amount of power he has accumulated bother me. However, the main reason that drove me to challenge Miller is the kind of political culture he has cultivated. There is no nice way to put it. Under Miller’s leadership the Democratic establishment in Maryland practices machine politics.
But what do I mean by machine politics?
In Prince George’s County and many other parts of the state, the party establishment controls local politics through its slates and sample ballots. Those who are elected to open seats likely owe their victory to their placement on an incumbent sample ballot, and as a result many of them feel they are more accountable to the party bosses than their constituents. In other words, decisions about who gets elected to what office – and many other important decisions – are being made by a handful of politicians.
Once elected officials learn that this kind of backroom deal-making is the way our politics is done, the system becomes a fertile breeding ground for outright corruption and other unsavory practices. Frequent headlines about unethical and illegal behavior by our elected officials prove my point.
What Maryland Democrats need is a new political culture within our own party. For us to establish a healthy, democratic and more transparent political culture, we need new leadership. That is why I am running against Mike Miller.
Tommi Makila of Accokeek is a Democratic candidate for the Maryland Senate’s District 27, which takes in southern Prince George’s County and portions of Charles and Calvert counties.