An open letter: State buildings should not be named after Senator Miller

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Mayor Colin Byrd of Greenbelt, Md. (Courtesy photo)

Last week, Senator Mike Miller announced that he was retiring from the Maryland state senate, for health reasons and we join many Marylanders in wishing him the best of health and spirit in retirement. We acknowledge the unparalleled longevity of his tenure in office and his tenure as the president of the state senate. But we strongly believe that the state should swiftly remove his name from honorific prominence on the state senate building and the administration building at the state’s flagship university. 

Senator Miller was instrumental in leading efforts to deliberately engage in racist, undemocratic redistricting. In 2002, he pushed for boundaries to dilute the power of Black voters in his district and then violated General Assembly and attorney ethics by calling and yelling at judges on the state’s top court while the related redistricting case was under judicial review. They ultimately found the map that Miller championed was unconstitutional in a case that was brought by the first Black county executive in Prince George’s County, Wayne Curry. Following the matter, Miller promised  to retaliate against lawmakers who raised issues with his map, saying “I’m not going to forget it. I’m not going to forgive.” Likewise, we cannot forget what Miller did, butas an aside, unlike Mike, we do forgive. Still, Mike fought for racist redistricting and for threatening Maryland’s democracy, and we cannot and will not take that lightly when it comes to two of the most significant state buildings in Maryland. 

Senator Miller has made comments that are extraordinarily offensive regarding the state’s largest city, which is home to over 600,000 Maryland residents. Specifically, he called Baltimore “a ghetto piece of sh*t.” These comments, by the way, are akin to comments that the current, outgoing president of the United States has made regarding Baltimore, Haiti and multiple African countries. Senator Miller’s comments about Baltimore are extremely offensive and unwelcoming to many Baltimoreans, including, but not limited to, Baltimoreans who are or may become students, faculty, staff and alumni at the state’s flagship university. 

We believe that, after seriously considering these and other facts, Bill Ferguson, a senator whose district is in Baltimore, cannot seriously profess to properly represent Baltimore if he reflexively rushes to defend the Mike Miller senate building name, nor can Chancellor Jay Perman assert that he is serious about properly welcoming Baltimoreans into the University of Maryland (UMD) community if he rushes to defend the Mike Miller UMD building name. 

Senator Miller also passionately defended Roger Taney and the infamous Dred Scott decision in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy and the subsequent national

reckoning regarding symbols of White supremacy on public property. Once again, Senator Ferguson cannot say he is strongly committed to addressing racial inequities if he does not address this simply because of the length of Miller’s tenure as senate president. Moreover, Chancellor Perman cannot say he is strongly committed to addressing structural racism if he does not address this, and the new policy that Chancellor Perman created about controversial building names is virtually toothless, meaningless, and useless if it does not apply to Mike Miller simply because Miller was an extremely powerful state senator who to this day has loyal allies in Annapolis. And Peter Franchot cannot run for governor in the diverse Maryland Democratic primary as a strong ally on race relations while letting this all slide. 

There are many African Americans and grassroots activists who distinctly liken Senator Miller’s leadership style and racial views to that of a modern day slave master. The most notable public example of this came in dramatic fashion at a meeting in which the head of the Prince George’s County teacher’s union put literal and figurative chains on a table and referred to him as “the master who lives in Calvert County.” 

On that point, it is well known among African Americans who closely follow Maryland politics and others who closely follow Maryland politics that, for decades, Miller exerted undue, often detrimental influence over Prince George’s County political matters and used his money and power over things like campaign slates, the fate of bills, and committee appointments to undermine the interests of Prince George’s County and progressive politicians across Maryland, while using tokenism to selectively cultivate influence among a handful of African American politicians whom he could direct in virtually any way he wanted because of their dependence on him and/or fear of him as well as their willingness to be subservient to him as a result of that dependence and fear — in other words, with all due respect, serving “master” was very important to them. Hopefully, with their newfound relative freedom from Mike’s grip on formal power in Annapolis — now that he is neither a state senator nor on the powerful budget and taxation committee — these individuals will not predictably rush to excuse all of his extraordinary offenses, simply to appease “master.” 

Senator Miller also repeatedly obstructed the legislative priorities of civil rights advocates, immigration advocates, and the labor community. This obstruction ultimately culminated in the “Take a Hike Mike” campaign started by a chapter of the Service Employees International Union and, in 2018, led to a political earthquake in which several of Miller’s top lieutenants lost or retired. The one major exception when it comes to Mike’s obstruction of labor priorities, by the way, was his unconditional support of police unions, oftentimes at the expense of Black Marylanders who disproportionately find themselves on the receiving end of police brutality and other types of police misconduct. While, today, the first black woman Speaker of the House of

Delegates, Adrienne Jones, is championing the repeal of the horrible Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, Mike Miller helped create this national model of police unaccountability by supporting it as the first ever Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights in all of America and by subsequently obstructing and watering down police reform efforts for decades. 

Finally, while Mike Miller may have provided significant state support to the University of Maryland, it is very important to note that his extreme and virtually singular focus on helping the University of Maryland came at an extraordinary price for other schools in Maryland, especially HBCUs. As a Maryland state senator — and, more importantly, as the president of the Maryland state senate — Miller had a major responsibility — not just to UMD but — to other institutions of higher education in Maryland, including HBCUs, but, while Miller championed virtually limitless funding for building after building, program after program, and partnership after partnership at the University of Maryland, he helped oversee and significantly contribute to the massive underfunding of and state discrimination against Maryland’s HBCUs. This underfunding and discrimination led to the largest, most infamous HBCU lawsuit in all of U.S. history — in all of U.S. history. And, while Miller may have talked about settling the case, he never used his unparalleled power as state senate president to sponsor or support legislation to resolve the matter, a case that has been running for over 13 years. It was not until he was no longer state senate president — and Adrienne Jones became Speaker of the House — that the General Assembly finally had presiding officers willing to really use their legislative power to help bring an end to the pain of the case and the injustices that gave rise to it. And, while Miller arranged to cast committee and floor votes during the 2020 session for several other ‘major’ issues like gambling and horse racing facilities, he was the only budget committee member not to vote for the Speaker’s HBCU lawsuit settlement bill in committee, and he was one of only two state senators not to vote for the bill on the Senate floor. See — gambling and horse racing bills were always far more important to Mike Miller than HBCUs. He and Bob Ehrlich fought Mike Busch tooth and nail for years on casino gambling, and it was reported that even the FBI had a few questions about Senator Miller’s ties to the horse racing industry. 

The bottom line is this: while it can certainly be argued that Mike Miller did a lot for the State of Maryland, there is no doubt that he did more than a lot to the State of Maryland — actions that render state buildings named after him extremely inappropriate. 

This is, again, a man who called Baltimore a ghetto piece of shit. And the naming of such prominent state buildings after him is even more inappropriate given the relative recency of his actions as well as the national racial reckoning taking place in the year of the likes of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and William Green. Senator Miller was not a man who merely unjustly wielded power in the 1930s or even 1960s. This is a man who

led deliberately racist redistricting efforts in the 21st century, unethically pressured and yelled at judges who wouldn’t support those efforts, and passionately defended Roger Taney and the Dred Scott decision in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy and the subsequent calls for removals of symbols of white supremacy from prominent government owned grounds. Mike Miller is not and was not a mere man of his time. He was truly exceptional in the things he did and said in offense to Baltimore, to African Americans, to civil rights advocates, and to the labor community. While Senator Miller’s legacy might in some ways make Dylann Roof and Sean Urbanski proud, Senator Miller’s legacy in far too many ways sharply conflicts with the purported values and mission of the State of Maryland and UMD. 

Granted, given Senator Miller’s deteriorating health condition, the timing of this demand may seem a little insensitive, but, with all due respect and while we wish Mike well, the decision to name a building after someone is never and should never be based on the prospective honoree’s physical health. Likewise, the decision to remove a name from a building should not be based on the honoree’s physical health. The reality is that, while sickness may generate sympathy and empathy, it does not erase history, change facts, or determine what should be done on such a matter. Did Donald Trump getting covid-19 suddenly make it a good idea to put his name on the White House? Did George Wallace’s 1972 hospital stay suddenly make it a good idea to put his name on buildings? Also, Robert E. Lee was ill in his later years. Should that stop his name from being taken off of buildings? No. No. And no. Respectfully. 

With that said, our understanding is that the Maryland Board of Public Works originally approved the naming of the state senate building after Senator Miller and that the University System of Maryland approved the naming of the UMD Administration Building after Senator Miller. 

So let us be crystal clear: President Ferguson, Chancellor Perman, Governor Hogan, Comptroller Franchot, and Treasurer Kopp, the buildings need to be renamed. Immediately. Change can’t wait. 

Signed:

Colin Byrd
Mayor
Greenbelt, Maryland

Saba Tshibaka
Co-founder
Black Terps Matter

Tracy Shand
Sister of Leonard Shand

Danny Schaible
Councilmember
Hyattsville, Maryland

Josh Omolola
Former Board Member
Prince George’s County School Board

Qiana Johnson
Founder
Life After Release
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Jake Burdett
President
Columbia Democratic Club

Franca Muller Paz
Former Candidate for Baltimore City Council

Richard Elliott
Candidate for Maryland State Delegate Prince George’s County, Maryland

Tara Maxwell
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Alexis Branch
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Christopher Ervin
Baltimore, Maryland

Mark McLaurin
Baltimore, Maryland

Rashad Lloyd
Prince George’s County, Maryland

LaWann Stribling
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Rudy Anthony
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Tanashea Sims
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Delvin Champagne
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Barry O’Connell
Maryland Politics

Tara Maxwell
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Anthony Tilghman
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Harold Lloyd
Anne Arundel County, Maryland

Kenneth Clark
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Crystal Peters
Baltimore County, Maryland

Michael Brennan
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Dana Couch
Howard County, Maryland

Evelyn Hammid
Baltimore, Maryland

Rashi Turniansky
Teacher
Baltimore City Public Schools

Malcolm Heflin
Baltimore, Maryland

Perry Wheeler
Baltimore, MD

Ian Miller
Baltimore County, Maryland

Ian Schlakman
Baltimore, Maryland

Michael Baney
Baltimore County, Maryland

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