The Service Employees International Union Local 500, which has 15,000 members statewide, is creating a political action committee and planning to provide $100,000 in seed money to remove the longest-serving state Senate president in the country’s history and his “lieutenants.”
The new PAC throws down the gauntlet for the Democratic primary, setting the stage for an intraparty feud pitting the establishment against younger, more progressive members of the party.
“If you are a worker, a woman or a person of color and are looking for a flag to rally around, we just planted this one,” said Merle Cuttitta, president of the local.
Members of the SEIU and some of their supporters chanted in front of the State House on Monday, hours before the end of the 90-day session, holding banners and chanting “Take a hike, Mike.”
And they’ve enlisted a major ally in their quest: Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), who told reporters that he plans to campaign against Miller.
Miller, 75, who has been in the legislature for 43 years and has served as Senate president for 31 years, said he welcomes Franchot to his district. Miller, who faces Tommi Makila, a political newcomer, has considerable support in his district and a hefty war chest.
“He lost Calvert County by 7,000 votes last time and when he comes down and they see what he looks like in person, he’ll lose by 14,000,” Miller said.
The comptroller has been at odds with Miller for years, a feud that escalated this session after Miller led an effort to take away the Board of Public Works’ role in deciding when and where schools are built. The board is made up of the governor, the comptroller and the state treasurer.
Franchot said he attended the protest in a show of support.
“This is a battle of good government versus the machine,” he said. “A battle of transparency versus the backrooms. . . More power to them. SEIU is a powerful union. I don’t think they used their words lightly.”
Franchot said he plans to “saddle up, so to speak,” going door to door to talk to voters about “the need for open government, honest government, good government,” pushing to remove Miller and other top Democrats from office.
“This has been boiling underneath the surface for years,” said Mark McLaurin, the local’s political director. “People are tired of his autocratic brand of leadership.”
In response to the protest, a spokesman for Miller provided a page of quotes from leaders of progressive groups supporting his tenure in the Senate.
Officials of the local said they have long been frustrated with Miller. Tensions between the union and the president reached a fever pitch this year when the Senate did not move on a collective-bargaining bill for adjunct professors at community colleges.
Miller said during an interview that he thinks that other employees at the colleges should have benefits before providing them to higher-income employees.
It isn’t the first time Miller has been criticized, but the push from the SEIU is the first organized effort by a progressive group to oppose him.
Last summer, a handful of people protested in Miller’s district after his defense of former U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert B. Taney, a Marylander and slavery defender who penned in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision that black people could not be U.S. citizens. Taney’s statue sat outside the Maryland State House until August, when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered it removed over Miller’s protests.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) called for Miller’s censure but no action was taken.
Miller later said he did not intend to cause division by defending the author of the decision.