Mike Miller got one of the strongest challenges to his 24-year reign as Senate president Thursday morning.
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton rose to introduce a late-filed bill just before the body adjourned for the day. Its purpose? To amend the state constitution to set term limits on the president of the Senate.
Miller shows few signs of handing over the reigns any time soon, after having prematurely announced his retirement in late 2006. He later changed his mind.
Middleton said this is an issue he has considered for a long time, and after a visit by a delegation of term-limited Japanese legislators Wednesday, it “finally clicked.”
“There are probably a lot of aspirants, and I think everybody in the body knows who you are,” said Middleton, who has also been mentioned as a potential successor to Miller. “We have the Japanese that were here …. and there was a resolution that was heard that would impeach the current attorney general. I thought impeachment was probably a little bit too severe, so I decided to use this route.”
Middleton added that he chose to introduce a constitutional amendment for his proposal because of the recent “popularity” of referendums — an insider reference to the vote on slot machines that Miller despised.
But Sen. Paul Pinsky had reservations making this a statewide referendum.
“Wouldn’t this be a bit of a gamble?” Pinsky asked.
A question then arose about which committee would consider the bill. Middleton tried to refer to the Finance Committee, which he chairs. But Sens. Joan Carter-Conway and Kathy Klausmeier struggled to have the proposal considered in their respective committees.
“I have not even said, as the Rules chairman, whether this is going to happen or not,” Klausmeier said. “So before it goes to the Senate Finance Committee, it has to be discussed with me.”
Senate Majority Leader Edward Kasemeyer asked Middleton about the bill’s prospects. Middleton seemed confident it would pass easily.
“I think if you add up the number of potential aspirants here in the body, and then you add that to the Republicans,” Middleton speculated, “there’s a pretty good chance of this emergency legislation going through.”
Senate Republican Leader Allan Kittleman took this opportunity to plan his rise up the ranks.
“I have a feeling there might be a chairmanship opening soon in the Finance Committee,” Kittleman said. “Knowing that I’m a member of that committee, and saying that I can maybe get 14 votes for you, I hope you’ll look favorably my way.”
As the debate, and laughter, subsided, senators all shouted to Miller in unison, “April Fool!”
Afterward, Miller amusedly expressed surprise at the prank.
“Speaking of the Japanese delegation, they didn’t give us advance notice before Pearl Harbor,” he said. “And you didn’t give me any notice before this.”