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The College of Southern Maryland has launched a fundraising campaign to establish a leadership institute it plans to name in honor of a long-serving Maryland politician with deep ties to the region.
Several entities with business before state government are ponying up to make the project a reality.
If the school can hit its financial targets, the Senate President Thomas V. Miller Jr. Center for Leadership would offer scholarships, provide training and serve as a leadership hub for the school and the surrounding community.
“We wanted to find a way to recognize him but also create a legacy so that we had something permanent to remind us of what leadership really means and how important it is,” said Michelle Goodwin, vice chairwoman of the CSM Foundation, which is spearheading the fundraising drive.
“Senator Miller is just a real testament to what it means to be a leader,” she added.
Miller, who has led the Senate since 1987, is the longest-serving Senate president in Maryland history — and he is the longest-serving Senate president in the nation. His Calvert County-based district includes a portion of southern Prince George’s County, where he continues to practice law.
The foundation is holding a fundraiser at Running Hare Vineyard in Prince Frederick on Sept. 26.
The host committee is led by the Chesapeake Potomac Healthcare Alliance — an ad hoc group that includes MedStar, Calvert Memorial Hospital and the Charles Regional Medical Center — and Marianne Harms, a philanthropist and donor to Democratic political candidates.
Also helping raise funds are more than a dozen other individuals and businesses, including an assortment of Annapolis-based lobbyists. They include CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, G.S. Proctor & Associates, Bruce C. Bereano, Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association and Washington Gas.
Unions, agricultural concerns and prominent former Southern Maryland politicians, like ex-state Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton and former Judge John F. Slade III are also contributing.
In an interview with Maryland Matters, Miller (D) said he was honored that the school would want to create a leadership institute in his name.
“My whole legacy is going to be about education and the environment,” said the 76-year-old lawmaker, who has battled Stage 4 prostate cancer that has metastasized to his spine — and more recently, a case of shingles.
“Senator [Paul] Pinksy (D-Prince George’s) and I have been involved in making community college as affordable as possible,” he added.
According to the fundraising invitation, the College of Southern Maryland Foundation hopes to raise half a million dollars to launch the Miller Center for Leadership.
Donors who give $100,000 get 12 tickets to a “VIP Reception” before the main event on Sept. 26 and will be listed on a special plaque and elsewhere.
Other donor levels — $50,000, $25,000, and so on — have similar recognition.
One of the most powerful men in state government, Miller said he initially expressed concern about being associated with a fundraising campaign that is targeting companies impacted by state policy.
“I was concerned about the ethics aspect of it, so [my Chief of Staff] Jake [Weissmann] talked to the [legislature’s ethics counsel] and they signed off on it,” he said. “I haven’t made one call and I haven’t solicited anybody.”
Miller also hasn’t suggested any names for the college foundation to solicit for the Sept. 26 fundraiser.
Tierra Bradford, public policy manager at Common Cause of Maryland, expressed apprehension about the CMS Foundation’s decision to solicit funds from businesses and lobbyists.
“Whenever legislators show close proximity to groups with special interests, this can read to the public that special interests groups have a major influence on policy decision making,” she said.
“Our organization is concerned when everyday people feel like their voice doesn’t matter as much as special interest groups, in our democracy.”
Miller has been a longtime booster of the University of Maryland at College Park, and the fundraising pitch had some of his friends scratching their heads about why a leadership institute in his name would be located at the College of Southern Maryland and not at the state’s flagship university.
“I’m sure once [College Park officials] hear about it, they’re going to be upset,” Miller conceded.
Goodwin insisted that CSM is eager to partner with College Park and other schools.
“We’re hoping that everybody looks at this opportunity to celebrate Mike’s leadership,” she said.
Miller acknowledged that when CSM first approached him, the pitch was to create scholarships in his name, not a leadership institute.
The school was founded in 1958 as Charles County Community College, and Miller recalled that he was instrumental in bringing Southern Maryland legislators, political leaders and school officials together in the late 1990s to create the College of Southern Maryland.
“In the Senate lounge we brought together the principals from all three [Southern Maryland] counties, Democrats and Republicans, and we were able to create this College of Southern Maryland, this tri-county effort, and it was difficult, because Charles County had it all. They weren’t sure what they were getting by adding St. Mary’s and Calvert.”
The College of Southern Maryland was born on July 1, 2000.