Maryland Senate President Miller announces cancer diagnosis

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Mike Miller with state Sen. Nancy King after his announcement on the floor of the Senate. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Sen. Paul Pinsky (obscured) gives Sen. Miller a pat on the back as the morning session comes to a close. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Mike Miller addresses the Senate as his chief of staff Yaakov “Jake” Weissmann stands by. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller speaks in the state Senate chamber in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, the first day of the state’s 2019 legislative session. The session begins with 60 new members to take up issues involving health care, education and the minimum wage. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller in 2018. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Senate President Mike Miller with Gov. Larry Hogan at a bill signing in 2017. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Senate President Mike Miller at a bill signing in 2017. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Maryland Senate President Mike Miller is pictured. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Mike Miller checks the board that shows the vote tally in the Senate chamber during the Thursday session. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Senate President Mike Miller opened the Thursday morning senate session with a voice that shook with emotion from time to time, even as he worked to begin the mechanics of the lawmaking routine. His voice quavered as he said, “We’d like everyone to record their presence in the chamber.”

Miller’s voice shook with emotion as he introduced a Catholic priest who offered a prayer before the start of the session. “As you can see, I’m not off to a good start,” he said with a small chuckle.

The 76-year-old Democrat, who’s entering his 33rd year as state Senate president, made clear he’d work as long as his health would allow. He’s the longest-serving state Senate president ever in Maryland and in the nation.

He handed out a printed statement about his diagnosis and allowed reporters, as well as members, to read before telling them, “The issue should not be about me. The Senate should not be about me. It should be about the Senate and the great work we’re going to do.”

“With your continued support and indulgence, I fully intend to fight this disease as so many have and to fully carry out my Senate responsibilities,” Miller said in the statement, released as he addressed his colleagues on the second day of the state’s 90-day session.

Miller said he had been experiencing significant back pain after hip and knee replacement surgery “that never seemed to heal appropriately.” He was diagnosed in July with prostate cancer, and prescribed medication and physical therapy.

“Despite these treatments, the pain did not subside, and on Dec. 27, I awoke with a sharp pain in my leg,” Miller said.

“After another series of tests at Johns Hopkins, the oncologist informed me and my family that the prostate cancer could no longer be managed through pharmaceuticals alone and that additional treatment would be necessary.”

Miller didn’t get into specifics on the course of his treatment, or his state of mind, other than to say of the diagnosis, “It affects every decision you’re making — so you look in the morning and you see if your hair is still there.”

He laughed, then added, “It’s thinning out!”

Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Democrat who represents Baltimore County, is the Senate president pro tem and told reporters, “I’m very saddened by the circumstances, and I hope that the whole world will just keep praying for our great president of our Senate. Whatever he needs me to do, I will do, and I don’t think I’ll do quite the job he does.”

Republican Sen. Adelaide Eckardt told reporters that Miller “truly looks out for all of us. He supports all of us, he has an open-door policy. He’s always here on the floor.”

She said Miller steps out of his role as he needs to, “To chide, correct, play, tease. He’s been a well-rounded figure. He clearly knows his role. I think he coaches very well.”

Republican Sen. Steve Hershey, the minority whip, said that Miller “truly is a friend to many of us, and we’ve worked with him for a long period of time.”

Hershey talked about Miller’s willingness to work across the aisle, while throwing a few barbs, too. “He’s been great about being inclusive with us here, not just on our jobs,” Hershey said.

Hershey mentioned that his mother visited on the first day of the session, and Miller extended a welcome to her. “He’s all about family.”

Hershey added, “We have a working relationship, and the Senate president has been great about being inclusive of the Republican Party here. But, at the same time, we’re able to go into his office, we joke around a lot of the time. We see each other outside of chambers. And he just wants to make sure that we have everything we need to operate properly; and he truly believes the best policy is both sides getting together and coming to some kind of compromise.”

Hershey does not believe that dynamics in the Senate will change. “I don’t think so yet. As (Miller) mentioned, so much of the work here is based on the committees.”

Outpourings of support have come from both sides of the aisle.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan released a statement, saying:

“My heart goes out to President Miller on what I know must be one of the toughest days he’s faced. I know firsthand how hard it is to receive a diagnosis like this. But I also know firsthand that Mike Miller has earned his place in Maryland political history because he’s a fighter who always gives it everything he’s got, no matter how tough things get. Mike’s tenacity, bravery, and perseverance will ensure that he wins this battle, and he has my full support.

Yumi and I send our heartfelt prayers to Mike, his wife, Patti, and his family during this difficult time.”

House Republicans Mic Kipke and Kathy Szeliga wrote:

“We wish the president a speedy recovery and will keep him and his family in our continued prayers. As we have seen so many times, cancer does not discriminate. We are confident that President Miller will face this new challenge with the same vigorous fighting spirit he has shown throughout his long legislative career.”

Miller isn’t alone among top Maryland leaders with health concerns in recent years.

House Speaker Michael Busch, 72, had bypass surgery last year and a liver transplant the year before. Hogan, 62, was diagnosed with B-cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015. The governor announced he was in remission in November 2016.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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