- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Mike Miller, the dean of Kentucky’s county judge-executives and a politically connected Democrat who counted governors and other statewide leaders as friends, collapsed at work Monday and died later at a hospital in Marshall County in western Kentucky.

Miller’s career as Marshall County judge-executive spanned 40 years, and he had been re-elected to another term last month. He was 70, according to an online obituary posted by a funeral home in Marshall County.

Democrats and Republicans paid tribute to a local leader whose influence stretched beyond his county tucked in the southwestern corner of Kentucky.

“I can’t think of anyone more devoted to his work and to the improvement of his community than Mike,” said Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. “Very few public officials can say they served in the same position for decades, but Mike easily earned the trust and respect of his peers.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul referred to Miller as a “dedicated public servant” who loved being county judge-executive.

“Mike and I worked well together over the past few years, despite being from different political parties,” Paul said.

In 1999, Miller administered the oath of office as Paul Patton was sworn in for a second term as Kentucky’s governor.

“I don’t know how anybody could have been any closer as a personal friend and as a political ally,” Patton said of Miller on Monday. “He was well-respected in all circles dealing with county government in Kentucky. So it’s just a terrible loss and a shock.”

Miller collapsed in his office Monday morning and died a short time later due to respiratory complications, said Assistant Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall. Miller died at the Marshall County Hospital emergency room in Benton, according to an obituary on the Collier Funeral Home website.

Miller first took office as Marshall County’s top elected official in 1974, according to the Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association.

His career spanned so many years that he saw his role change dramatically. Early in his tenure, the job included the judicial function of presiding over legal proceedings as well as taking the lead in managing county government, said Vince Lang, executive director of the judge/executive association.

Those legal duties were taken away from county judge-executives as a result of judicial reforms enacted a few years into Miller’s career, he said.

Miller went on to become a mentor to county officials across Kentucky, Lang said.

“He had lots of charisma, lots of energy and he just had a love of public service,” he said.

Last month, Miller received 55 percent of the vote in winning re-election.

Through the decades, Miller played a key role in improving roads, parks, ambulance service and economic opportunities in his county, said Marshall County Clerk Tim York, who was a high school senior when he worked on Miller’s first campaign.

“He cared about people,” York said. “Anytime somebody came in his office, they felt welcome. And if he could help you, he would.”

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