CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The voice on the message is clear and authoritative. The man identifies himself as a lawyer, and he wants money.
Typically not a good sign.
But Tim Miley, quick to laugh, smiles and holds up his phone as the voicemail continues.
"This is the Senate president of the state of Maryland calling to collect your dues for the Surrattsville Alumni association. At the same time calling to congratulate you."
Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, a lifelong friend of Miley's, goes on: He points out Miley made it from a small Maryland town to become the leader of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
"Who woulda ever thunk?" Miller says, telling his friend the accomplishment is amazing.
Miley's ascension to one of the most powerful positions in the state came about rather quickly. Within a month of former Speaker Rick Thompson announcing his decision to leave to the Legislature, Miley emerged from the ensuing Democratic scramble as the nominee.
The Harrison County attorney is confident he can prove it wasn't a mistake, helping his adopted state and keeping a Democrat majority in the process.
Miley, 47, is the second of four kids born to children of West Virginia. His father hails from Harrison County, his mother from Preston County.
"In the early '60s they went to the D.C. area to find work. And so, they found work and found each other and they've been there ever since," Miley said Friday, sitting in his new office at the state Capitol.
They settled in the town of Clifton, Md., about 12 miles south of the nation's capitol. But Miley remembers fondly coming back to West Virginia on holidays, visiting one week with his mother's family and the next with his father's. It would be years before Miley considered coming to the state for work.
Miley attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas for his undergraduate degree. The NCAA leveled its dreaded "death penalty" on the school's football program while he was there, eliminating the program in the wake of rampant scandals. It's the only time the penalty has ever been used.
"My senior year of college we had soccer as our homecoming game," Miley said.
He wasn't sure what he wanted to do for a living until his junior year. He'd tossed around the idea of being a lawyer for sometime though, based on interactions with his best friend Tommy's dad, Mike Miller.
Miley revered the older Miller, who worked both as a lawyer and state senator.
"Mike was always the person people seemed to turn to if they had a problem or an issue, whether it be a legal issue or a non-legal . . . Mike was always that guy," Miley said.
He moved closer to home for law school, attending Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. During the second year of law school, students traditionally look for a place to clerk and potentially work full time after graduation.
Looking through the list of potential businesses, Miley noticed the Clarksburg-based Steptoe and Johnson. He immediately signed up for an interview.
"I can still remember the partner who interviewed me, he's still there today and we're good friends to this day," Miley said.
"I owe everything I am today to Walter Williams for being willing to go out on a limb and hire me at Steptoe and Johnson."
After clerking with the company for a summer, Miley accepted an offer to come back full-time after graduation. He stayed with the firm for about five years, before bouncing around to a few more firms. Miley worked in insurance law for 10 or 11 years, "representing basically what amounted to corporate America." It was fine, but Miley said he wanted more personal interaction with clients.
That led to several general practice firms, and eventually, as he calls it, "the whole tiger schtick."
Law and office
When Miley first considered running for elected office, friends said they thought it would be great for his legal career. He'd gain some name recognition, win or lose, which could bring in more business, they said.
Miley hates to lose. A self-professed competitor, he won a seat in the House in 2004. Taking office in the winter of 2005, Miley saw something different transpire:
"The people in whose eyes my name was enhanced only knew me as a politician. And some of those people who knew me as a lawyer even before then thought I was closing my law practice, which I can't afford to have happen," Miley said.
He turned to his brother Doug. Two years younger, Doug was working in Dayton, Ohio, for a law firm that also happened to have a subsidiary production company. They made commercials that happened to use tigers, and worked out an agreement with Tim Miley to license with the production company.
"If you're seriously injured, get the tiger on your side," Miley says in one commercial, standing in front of an animatronic American flag blowing in a digital breeze.