Maryland’s next lieutenant governor got her start in government in Montgomery County and said she doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. Aruna Miller, a Darnestown resident, will bring decades of experience in local government and politics to Annapolis in January.
Governor-elect Wes Moore and Miller won the election with 64.53% of the vote, as of the latest unofficial election results from the state elections board Tuesday afternoon. Moore and Miller received significant media attention for being one of the most diverse campaign tickets. Moore will be Maryland’s first Black governor, and Miller will be the nation’s first ever South Asian lieutenant governor.
“Diversity was reflected in the way [Marylanders] voted, and it’s going to be reflected in the policies that we develop moving forward,” Miller said. “And what’s exciting about this whole statewide ticket is when people see individuals that look like themselves as their elected officials, they are going to be more engaged.”
According to a demographics data report from Montgomery Planning, 59% of Montgomery County’s population was non-white in 2020, with a 20.5% Hispanic population, 18.2% Black population, and 15.3% Asian and Pacific Islander population.
For Miller, it’s about more than just the representation she brings with her lived experience as a woman of color. It’s also about her experience serving Maryland in various capacities on the local and statewide scale.
“I’ve had the great privilege of being a public servant for all of my adult life. So, I’ve dedicated my life to bringing equitable access when it comes to transportation for the residents of Montgomery County,” said Miller, a former District 15 delegate. “I have had experience both in the legislative body as well as the executive side of government, and I gather that will give me the foundation to be an effective lieutenant governor as we move forward.”
Public safety, transit and serving Montgomery County
Miller worked for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation for 25 years prior to going into politics, and she says the experience has shaped her view of government. One of the things she said she learned is how equity ties into issues like transportation.
“It’s not just about building roads that are very critical to our economy and welfare and so forth,” Miller said. “It’s also about making sure that we have options for our transportation users. That could be in the form of mass transit, public transit, sidewalks, bikeways, making sure that we have ADA compliant infrastructure that is going to serve all users.”
Miller said it’s vital to include the community in these conversations.
“The public plays a vital role in being able to deliver a project or product that’s much better, so it’s important to hear their ideas,” Miller said. “Wes Moore and I always have believed that those closest to the challenge are closest to the solution. So, we need to bring the solution makers to the table to hear them out.”
While Miller will be serving the whole state alongside Moore, the size, location and influence of Montgomery County will have an impact on the work they are doing. For example, the Moore administration will now be responsible for the I-270 and I-495 toll lanes project that current Governor Larry Hogan started.
“We have a lot of concerns, and these concerns have been elevated by our local elected officials from County Executive Marc Elrich, the County Council and Maryland and Montgomery County residents and I think we need to hear them out about what is the best approach as we move forward. [Hogan’s] public private partnership is not a transportation strategy. It’s a funding option,” Miller said.
Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando (D – at-large) was an early supporter of Miller, and said he’s excited to work with her.
“Aruna is a top-notch person. She’s kind, she’s smart, she’s a collaborator by nature. She’s someone who brings people together, and she works really hard. I think all of those things are going to serve all of us really well,” Jawando said.
Jawando said he’s looking forward to having Miller’s transportation expertise when it comes to major issues that affect both the state and the county.
“We have some big transportation stuff to deal with, like the I-495 plan. She’s going to be helpful there,” Jawando said. “It’s great for the county to have someone who understands what we do, and the importance of it in the [governor’s] cabinet and leading.”
Questions about campaign contributions
While Miller was a popular candidate, she hasn’t been immune to outside skepticism. Miller and Moore have received criticism for allegedly accepting contributions from groups and individuals with alleged associations to Hindu nationalism, The Intercept reported last month.
Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, is a political ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus. It has been, in some cases, associated with right-wing extremism and anti-Muslim sentiment, according to the Association for Asian Studies.
Gayatri Girirajan, a representative for South Asian Affairs with Peace Action Montgomery, said the concern is when Hindu nationalist groups get involved in American politics, it could lead to international allyship with groups that promote Hindutva goals. Peace Action Montgomery is a chapter of Peace Action, the nation’s largest peace organization which focuses grassroots advocacy to reduce violence in the world, according to its website.
“[Hindu nationalism] is really concerning for a lot of people; it doesn’t just affect people in India. It also affects vulnerable and marginalized communities in the United States. Whether it’s the Muslim community or any other vulnerable, marginalized community, these international affiliations are certainly going to be detrimental,” Girirajan said.
Miller said the campaign did not participate in fundraisers hosted by Hindu nationalists.
“Our campaign did our research. None of these people are Hindu nationalists,” Miller said. “Moving forward, I can tell you that we stand with the Muslim American community and we will do whats necessary to fight against any discrimination and bigotry aimed at them. I can tell you that as a legislator, I have always stood up for rights of the Muslim American community.”
Miller said she feels an unfair spotlight has been focused on her when it comes to these contributions because she is Indian-American and grew up in a Hindu-Christian household.
“The nature of politics is that it’s a conflict situation,” Miller said “The minute you decide to run, you automatically have people that are opposed to you, so they’re gonna throw everything and the kitchen sink at you. It’s unfortunate.”
Girirajan said as a Hindu person herself, she feels it’s fair to be for anti-Hindutva activists to be more critical of Miller because her Hindu background would give her more awareness and insight into Hindu nationalism.
“The goal really was to have [the Moore/Miller campaign] return any donations [tied to Hindutva], unequivocally acknowledge the Hindu nationalist presence in U.S. politics and call that out,” Girirajan said.
Reproductive rights, education and families
Elected officials, including Elrich, have predicted Montgomery County and Maryland as a whole will become sanctuaries for people seeking abortions and reproductive healthcare in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Miller said protecting these rights is a priority for her and Moore.
“Right now, our rights are under attack like never before. The first thing that we
‘re going to do is make sure that Marylanders’ rights to access to reproductive care will be there by releasing $3.5 million to expand training for reproductive health care providers on day one,” Miller said. “We will continue to hopefully work with the legislature to make sure that women’s rights to reproductive care and access to abortion will be part of our [state] constitution moving forward.”
Miller said she also wants to explore other ways of empowering Maryland women, including
Education will be another major focus of the administration.
“Education is the foundation for our entire state, nation
, and families as we move forward,” Miller said.
Miller said the state needs to reflect its enthusiasm for education by taking action to support students and schools. A big part of this will be working with the General Assembly on implementing the state education blueprint.
“We want to make sure that our students are safe and on the right path by tackling disrupted learning, investing in before and after school programs and expanding community schools,” Miller said. “We want to make sure that we provide education support professionals at schools, with counselors and behavioral specialists in school buildings.”
Overall, Miller said she looks forward to working and collaborating with the county government, and she is excited that Montgomery County will have its most diverse County Council yet. But she also said her goal is for her work to reflect Marylanders from all areas and walks of life.
“Whether [constituents] are in red areas or blue areas makes no difference to the Moore-Miller administration, because the fact that we’ve been elected … means we are there to serve all the people, and we’re going to keep that dialogue going and ask what their needs are and how we can better partner with them,” Miller said.