Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., has been a member of the Maryland Senate since 1975 and currently presides over the governing body as president. A democrat, Miller represents District 27, Calvert and Prince George’s counties.

On April 14, he was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, during which he was prompted for comment:

Kojo Nnamdi: And we’ve got a tweet from Jason who says, “Tell Mike Miller that the legislature should protect Maryland beer rather than hurting it.”

Here was Miller’s full response:

Sen. “Mike” Miller: Peter Franchot is a tax collector of the state. He’s the tax collector of the state. He wants to be relevant. He’s not relevant in terms of the general assembly, in terms of making laws for the House and the Senate. 

Ninety-eight percent of the brewers, 98 percent of the wholesalers, 98 percent of the retailers love this bill [House Bill 1283] that was passed. It was a great bill, it was a consensus bill. Plus it brought a whole new industry to Baltimore County. It brought Guinness. Guinness, Guinness Light, Guinness Stout… for tasting rooms, for tourism.

Everybody loved this bill except Peter Franchot [who] felt shut out, because he wasn’t a part of the consensus. And, like I say, he’s like a voice wailing in the wilderness. He can’t make laws, he can’t sponsor laws, he can’t pass laws, and he’s got nothing to do but collect the taxes. And that’s what he should be focused on.

First, Let’s Look at the Supporters of HB 1283

For the moment, I’m going to set aside the fact that Miller allocated two-thirds of his answer toward excoriating Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot – when Franchot wasn’t even referenced in the initial comment – to focus on this statement:

Ninety-eight percent of the brewers, 98 percent of the wholesalers, 98 percent of the retailers love this bill that was passed. It was a great bill, it was a consensus bill.

First of all, of course this bill had the support of retailers. HB 1283’s primary sponsor Del. Talmadge Branch only put forward the bill – which was originally a narrowly-scoped repeal bill that dealt exclusively with restricting brewery taproom operating hours – after retailer interests came forward with anecdotal, unsubstantiated claims of brewery taproom interference. (Read more of my interview with Branch.)

Second, given that both Steve Wise (MSLBA legal counsel) and Nick Manis (MCA, on behalf of MBWA) are often found advocating for like causes and outcomes, it is also no surprise that wholesalers were on board with this, too.

Although, as my previous guest editorial from March demonstrated, not all wholesalers agree with the anti-craft brewery advocacy posture adopted by most others in the state.

Which leaves us with this statement of “98 percent of the brewers” supporting the bill.

Miller’s Background and a Refresher on HB 1283 Response

Here’s the thing about Miller’s assertion that brewers supported HB 1283: He’s either making sweeping, untrue generalizations from a place of ignorance, or he’s being intentionally deceptive with his attempts at revisionist history.

Given the assertive, declarative tone of his remarks, neither option is terribly reassuring. In addition, while circumstantial, one should note his deep roots not only in Maryland, but also within the retail side of this argument:

“He was born Dec. 3, 1942, in Clinton, the oldest of 10 children. The Millers and their kin have long been prominent in Southern Maryland. The focal point of their small-town empire was B.K. Miller‘s a grocery and liquor store that opened in 1913 and stands today at the corner of Old Branch Avenue and Woodyard Road in Clinton.”  (“President of Contradictions,” Josh Kurtz, 2001)

In reality, breweries were blindsided by the version of HB 1283 that passed in the House and made no secret of their opposition to the bill – which became the subject of much debate ahead of its Senate vote. This was due to allegations of backroom dealing on behalf of special interests that intentionally kept the House Alcoholic Beverages Subcommittee Chair, Maryland craft brewers and, ultimately, Diageo/Guinness out of the loop.

It was only after much hand-wringing and public foot-stomping leading up to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing on March 29 were brewers invited to the table. (Not to mention documented reports that members of the House of Delegates felt misled into thinking that the bill had brewery support.)

But at that point, the only option left was to make the most of what was a maliciously-crafted, anti-brewery bill. Because, even though the House had multiple options in front of them – pass the Modern Brewery Bill (HB 1420), which would have benefited everyone (including Guinness), or amend the Diageo/Guinness Bill (HB 1391) to apply to everyone, for instance – they chose to use a repeal bill as their vehicle to bring Guinness to Maryland.

So, when the dust settled, yes, brewers had a seat at the table and a bill was passed with their input. But to say brewers “love” HB 1283 is like putting lipstick on a pig and swearing to me it’s Salma Hayek.

Again, this is a fact that is well-documented, so I would refer Miller back to this statement by the Brewers Association of Maryland, following HB 1283’s passage:

“This process of negotiations—to address the prospect of major restrictions being thrust upon the industry—has been a gut-wrenching experience for members who simply wanted to follow their entrepreneurial dream of opening a craft brewery in Maryland. After negotiations on the bill in the Senate, we reluctantly support the passage of HB1283 as amended by the Senate with the understanding that breweries will continue on their path to modernize Maryland’s beer laws in the years ahead.” (Brewers Association of Maryland)

Phrases like “gut-wrenching experience” and “reluctantly support” are a far cry from “love.”

My Survey of Sen. Mike Miller’s Remarks on the Kojo Show

On April 18, I published a public survey across various social media outlets to determine whether or not others were in agreement with Miller’s remarks. The questions were as follows:

1. I am a…

Maryland craft brewer
Maryland craft beer consumer
Maryland legislator
Maryland wholesaler
Maryland retailer
Maryland private individual (nondrinker)
I would prefer not to identify myself
Other (please specify)

2. During a recent interview with the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Senate President Mike Miller had this to say about the controversial House Bill 1283, that recently passed with amendments:

“98 percent of the brewers, 98 percent of the wholesalers, 98 percent of the distributors LOVE this bill. It was a great bill. It was a consensus bill. Plus it brought a whole new industry to Baltimore County… it brought Guinness… Guinness Light, Guinness Stout, to Diageo… for tasting rooms and tourism. Everybody loves this bill except Peter Franchot because he felt shut out; like I said, he’s like a voice wailing in the wilderness.”

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Agree
Disagree
Neutral

3. OPTIONAL: If you could respond directly to Senate President Mike Miller, regarding this statement, what would you say? (You may reply whether you agree or disagree.)

4. OPTIONAL: Do you have anything else you’d like to add regarding Miller’s statements or House Bill 1283 overall?

5. OPTIONAL: If you wish to have your name and/or place of business associated with your comment, you may enter it below. If you wish to submit your comments for use only with an “anonymous” attribution, please leave this field blank.

(Please note that all quoted responses in the remainder of this article are printed exactly as-is and were not edited by me.)

In total, 321 individuals responded to the survey. The majority (75.08 percent) self-identified as consumers, with the second largest group (12.46 percent) of respondents being self-identified as being members of the Maryland craft brewer community.

While the latter number might seem small, it is important to keep in mind that Maryland has fewer than 70 breweries, with only approximately 30 Maryland craft breweries being impacted directly by this legislation.

The “Other (please specify)” category included three breweries in planning, homebrewers, two hop growers (with one also being a farm brewer), someone who works for a wholesaler, a liquor lawyer, a distiller, a couple Maryland residents who work at breweries in Virginia/Washington, D.C., as well as a handful other, miscellaneous industry professionals.

Of the 321 respondents, 96.88 percent disagreed with Miller’s comments on HB 1283. Under 1 percent agreed with Miller, while 2.18 percent had a neutral reaction.

Of the three who agreed with Miller, two self-identified as Maryland craft beer consumers and one as a Maryland private individual (nondrinker). The Maryland private individual (nondrinker) was the only one of the three to provide any response supporting their choice, however, that response was only the word “Agree” to question three and “No” to question four.

Four of those who fell into the neutral category added the following comments to their answers:

“Guinness itself shouldn’t be a problem for the small guys, people that drink craft beer may go but hard core craft beer drinkers drink local brews even if Guinness is local they are not a local company. I don’t believe hours should be cut, nor having to go through a distributor to sell beer in tap rooms should occur. That can cause revenue loss to the small breweries.” (Anonymous)

“Exactly how deep in the pocket of the distributors and wholesalers are you?” (Anonymous)

“It would not be fair for me to comment, because in the scale of worth, I would place Mike Miller just below a snakehead fish.” (Anonymous)

“Is the Senate’s job to protect businesses from each other or to help the consumer have fair choices?” (Anonymous)

In the case of this survey, “neurtality” did not equate to support of Miller.

How Did Maryland Craft Brewers Respond to Miller Saying They Supported the Bill?

Of the 40 self-identified Maryland craft brewers, no one said they agreed with the bill:

Question No. 2 responses filtered for only self-identified Maryland craft brewer respondents.

Below are a selection of their responses.

Maryland craft brewer respondent No. 38:

“The suggestion that this bill is a win is laughable. HB1283 does not achieve anything worth celebrating in the brewing community, except for that it was ‘just good enough’ to get Guinness to select Maryland as the site for their next brewery. The attitude that the State should set hours for brewery tasting rooms disregards the input of local consumers, businesses, and officials and impacts the business models that many future brewery owners/operators have explored. Furthermore, existing breweries now have a competitive disadvantage over potential future breweries as their operations have been ‘grandfathered in’ and won’t be impacted by the restriction of the tasting room hours set by the State.

With regard to the barrel limit increase from 500 bbls to 3000 bbls*, it’s a joke to believe that breweries really are satisfied with this. For succeeding in business and exceeding 2000 bbls of sales in a tasting room, brewers are forced to add an additional 50% to their cost of goods sold by buying a product that they have already manufactured and sold back from a wholesaler at markup. This piece should be enough to inform any person familiar with the three-tier system that the interest of the State Legislature is in satisfying the large wholesale interests rather than making Maryland a competitive environment for the growing craft beer industry. Senate President Mike Miller is out of touch if he thinks Guinness is bringing a new industry to Maryland; brewing in not a new industry in the Old Line State.

Codifying pieces of the existing legislature to include language about contract brewing was a step in the right direction, but the current split of selling beer in that tap room that is produced 75% on-site and 25% through contract could be detrimental to startup breweries, or breweries that are growing, that can’t secure additional capital because they can’t brew enough to raise their revenues.” (Anonymous)

Maryland craft brewer respondent No. 35:

“I would love to know where you calculated 98% in favor of the bill. This bill only shed more light on the competitive disadvantage breweries have in Maryland versus other states. The rules and overall system is so incredibly burdensome and mostly rewards the distributors every time.

Peter Franchot has been nothing but supportive. He still is a politician with an agenda, but truly wants businesses to have the ability to thrive.” (Anonymous)

Maryland craft brewer respondent No. 14:

“I am a brewery owner and I don’t know a single member of our community of businesses that supported this bill. The version the house passed was far worse than the final version and if that’s the version he’s referring to, that wouldn’t have allowed Guinness to open. It’s clear to me that his long history with the alcohol wholesale industry in the state has created a cancer in his mind that has choked out reason and contributed to his strangle hold of power.” (Anonymous)

Maryland craft brewer respondent No. 7:

“This is so far from the truth, every brewer that showed up for the committee hearing was vehemently against HB1283, grandfathering in existing breweries helps, but does nothing for the future of craft beer in Maryland. Senate President Miller is either lying or misinformed in his facts, and I don’t know which is worse.” (Hysteria Brewing Company)

Maryland craft brewer respondent No. 3:

What brewers and/or breweries have you talked to? because I don’t know of 1 brewer who loves this bill. In fact most I know hate it and the fact it has made Maryland a laughingstock in the beer world. (Kevin Blodger, Union Craft Brewing)

Maryland craft brewer respondent No. 26:

“If he has not talked directly with us (the brewers), how can he make these claims? His statements are a direct reflection of how corrupt and blind Maryland Government and Politics have become. When government officials side with businesses because of their strong lobbying and money, we no longer live in a democracy.” (“Anonymous Brewer scared of retaliation by corrupt Maryland politicians”)

What About Self-Identified Maryland Wholesalers and Retailers?

Before looking at their responses, we all need to recognize there are two fundamental issues with the results of my survey. First, those wholesalers and retailers who were and are in support of HB 1283 have been largely silent, often declining or refusing to answer requests (including mine) for comment.

Second, it would be foolish of me not to acknowledge the fact that my audience largely supports Maryland craft brewers. So, while I did actively push this survey in front of many eyes as possible, to get it in front of people outside of my circle, the majority opinion of those who may have been prompted to respond is worth noting.

With those caveats in mind, here are how the eight participating Maryland wholesalers and retailers responded:

Question No. 2 responses filtered for only self-identified Maryland wholesaler or retailer respondents.

Below are a selection of their expanded responses.

Maryland wholesaler respondent No. 2:

“This bill set Maryland back so far in the craft beer world. It was already years behind Virginia. I wish I was more disappointed that a politician did not have his state’s residents and economy as his main interest but that’s the way the world works.” (Anonymous)

Maryland retailer respondent No. 3:

“I am overwhelmed with frustration. The statement has no factual basis and is just the opinion of a politician who is uneducated on the issue and the long term negative effects HB1283 will have on the beer business in MD. Killing potential for the success of new businesses should not be part of any politician’s agenda.” (Ross Miller, beer buyer for Maryland retailer)

Maryland retailer respondent No. 5:

“That statement is an outright lie. Most were not happy with the bill at all, this guy sounds like donald trump, ignoring the facts at hand and knowing that if he repeats half truths and falsehoods enough that people may believe him. HB 1283 never should have been introduced much less passed. It’s a terrible thing for local business and for the people that live and work in maryland.” (Anonymous)

Consumers Also Overwhelmingly Disagreed with Miller’s Statement

Those who self-identified as Maryland craft beer consumers, which made up the largest responding demographic, were in 100-percent disagreement with Miller:

“Senator Miller’s statement is absolutely NOT the representative of the craft beer community in Maryland.” (Anonymous)

“Mike, you are WOEFULLY misinformed here. This bill is terrible and I’ve lost a bit of respect for you after reading this indefensible statement.” (Anonymous)

“Senator, I am very disappointed with your opinion on HB 1283. It is clear that you are out of touch from your constituents and what they truly want. I miss the days when government representatives actually did what the people who voted them into office wanted. You will not be receiving a vote from me when you run for re-election.” (Anonymous)

What About Miller’s Skewering of Comptroller Peter Franchot?

As I mentioned at the start of this, one of the things that baffles me the most is how Miller bookended his response to a statement calling for the protection of Maryland beer with an attack on Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Not because I don’t understand why – Franchot recently announced the formation the Reform on Tap task force, in the wake of HB 1283 – but rather it is such a transparent and laughable attack.

To say he’s a lone “voice wailing in the wilderness,” because he is the legislative equivalent of a lover scorned is a misrepresentation of what he is trying to accomplish.

As the survey responses above clearly demonstrate, Franchot is acting as a representative for those who feel that they are not being heard. And, as I’ve said before, Maryland has been historically hostile toward Maryland craft brewers, consistently tipping the scales in favor of only two segments of the three-tier system – wholesalers and retailers – time and time again.

Moreover, if the House of Delegates and the Senate had done a better job at even giving a passable appearance of being supportive of Maryland craft brewers during this or any other session, they wouldn’t have left such a wide berth for Franchot to do so on his own.

As a writer, I applaud the bravado of Miller’s colorful portrait of Franchot – as well as the situation as a whole. But as a constituent, I find his rhetoric to be as damaging as it is misleading.

Editor’s Note

I would like to thank everyone who participated in this survey. There were a few details that were disclosed in confidence, as part of certain individual survey answers. Once they have been redacted, in accordance with the wishes of those respondents, all responses will be forwarded to the office of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., so that all who took the time to voice their opinions will have an opportunity to be heard.