Zell Bryan Miller (born February 24, 1932) is an American politician from the U.S. state of Georgia. A conservative Democrat, he served as Governor of Georgia from 1991 to 1999 and has been a United States Senator since 2000. In recent years, he has proven to be a maverick Democrat, backing Republican President George W. Bush over contender John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and frequently criticizing problems in his own party.
Early life Miller was born in Young Harris, Georgia. There he was raised by his single-mother (Miller’s father died when Miller was an infant) and continues to live in the home in which he grew up. Miller holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in history from the University of Georgia.
During the 1950s, he served in the United States Marine Corps as a Sergeant and a Rifle Expert. His time as a Marine had a profound effect on his life, and he later wrote a book, Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines, about the values which his experience in the Marines taught him. “In the twelve weeks of hell and transformation that were Marine Corps boot camp, I learned the values of achieving a successful life that have guided and sustained me on the course which, although sometimes checkered and detoured, I have followed ever since,” he would write.
Zell Miller is married to Shirley Carver Miller. They have two sons, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Miller was the Mayor of Young Harris from 1959 to 1960, and was elected to two terms as State Senator in Georgia before serving in several positions in state government and in the Georgia Democratic Party .
Miller also taught political science and history as a professor at Young Harris College, the University of Georgia, and Emory University.
Miller first came to prominence as Chief of Staff for Georgia’s segregationist governor Lester Maddox. He was elected lieutenant governor of Georgia in 1974, serving four terms from 1975 to 1991, through the terms of Governors George Busbee and Joe Frank Harris. In 1980, Miller unsuccessfully challenged Herman Talmadge in the Democratic primary for his seat in the U.S. Senate.
He was elected Governor in 1990, defeating the Republican Johnny Isakson. Miller’s biggest election battle came in 1994. In 1992 he became the first Georgia Governor to openly proclaim a desire to remove the Confederate flag-based starred cross from the Flag of Georgia. He sponsored legislation to change the flag at the 1993 session of the Georgia General Assembly, but the legislature, perhaps influenced by polls showing consistent majority support for retaining the flag, did not enact any changes. Miller then dropped the issue, but in the election that followed, Miller’s Republican rival used the flag issue against the Governor, arguing it proved he was out-of-tune with Georgia’s values and history. Many have since argued that the ’94 election, which Miller narrowly won, was a key turning-point in Miller’s career, and gave him a great desire to prove himself as a cultural conservative. In the late 1990s he shifted from being pro-choice to pro-life.
Miller’s successor as governor of Georgia, Roy Barnes, appointed Miller to the Senate seat following the death of Republican senator Paul Coverdell in July 2000, and Miller won a special election to keep the seat in November 2000. As Coverdell was last elected in 1998, Miller will have had a four-year term in the Senate before his announced retirement from politics in January, 2005, following the conclusion of the 108th United States Congress.
Although Miller is formally a Democrat, he has been widely viewed as very conservative and opposed to the party, especially since he became a U.S. Senator in 2000. While the Democratic Party’s historic control of Georgian politics diminished greatly during his tenure as lieutenant governor and governor, Miller always remained popular and easily won his elections, demonstrating his ability to please members of both major parties in Georgia.
During his term in the Senate, Miller received attention for his controversial and occasionally inflammatory comments, including his calling rap music “crap” on the Senate floor, and his call for the abolition of the 17th Amendment (this would revoke the right of the people to elect U.S. senators and transfer it back to the state legislatures).
During 2001 and 2002, when liberal Republican senators from New England like James Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee threatened to (and in Jeffords’ case, did) leave their party over ideological disputes, rumors abounded that Miller would become a Republican in order to return control of the Senate to that party. These rumors were, however, repeatedly denied.
In 2003, Miller announced that he would not seek reelection after completing his term in the Senate. He also announced that he would support President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election rather than any of the nine candidates then competing for his own party’s nomination, but again denied that he would become a Republican. He did not change this position after fellow Senator John Kerry became the Democratic nominee, and Miller, who had been a keynote speaker at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, was subsequently announced to be the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention.
In his speech , delivered on September 1, 2004, Miller struck what was regarded by many commentators as the fiercest tone of all the major speakers at the convention. In it, he criticized the current state of the Democratic party. He also criticized John Kerry’s Senate voting record, claiming that Kerry’s votes against defense and weapon systems indicated support for weakening U.S. military strength. In one widely-quoted line, he asked, referring to Kerry, “This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of our U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?”
2004 was not the first year in which Miller gave the keynote address at a party nominating convention in Madison Square Garden. In 1992, Miller keynoted the Democratic National Convention, supporting then-Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas over then-President George H. W. Bush. In a memorable line contrasting his later endorsements, Miller said, “Not all of us can be born rich, handsome, and lucky, and that’s why we have a Democratic Party.”
Following the speech, Miller appeared in interviews that garnered notice for Miller’s combative manner. Miller appeared on MSNBC for an interview with Chris Matthews. Matthews tried to examine the premise of Miller’s assertion that Kerry had actually voted against such defense programs by noting that in voting on appropriations bills, senators often vote against a version of a bill without wishing to oppose every item in that bill. Matthews also asked Miller to compare his hyperbolic assertion that a Kerry military would be armed only with spitballs with rhetoric from the other side that Republicans “want to starve little kids, they want to get rid of education, they want to kill the old people” and whether such level of rhetoric was constructive. When Miller expressed irritation at this line of questioning, Matthews pressed Miller with the question “Do you believe now?do you believe, Senator, truthfully, that John Kerry wants to defend the country with spitballs?” Miller at first said that he wished the interview had been face-to-face so that he could “get a little closer up into your face” and asked him to “get out of my face.” Finally, objecting to Matthews’s style of questioning, Miller said, “I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel.”
Given his conservative ideology and increasing political distance from the Democratic Party, many Democratic leaders have publicly claimed that Miller is no longer a real Democrat. He has in fact stopped meeting with the Democratic Party senate caucus and instead sits in on the Republican one.
Miller argues in his book A National Party No More that the Democratic Party has lost its majority because they do not stand for the same ideals that they used to in the era of John F. Kennedy. He argues that the Democratic Party, as it now stands, is a far-left-wing party that is out of touch with America of today and that the Republican party now embraces the conservative Democratic ideals that he has held for so long.
Many people have wondered why Miller has not switched parties in light of his strong alignment with the Republican Party and staunch opposition to the Democratic Party. Miller says that he was born a Democrat and considers his party label “like a birthmark.” Critics claim that Miller remains a Democrat because of the increased attention he gets when he attacks the Democratic Party as a “fellow Democrat”. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe went so far as to accuse the senator of attacking his own party to sell books.
“If he were just another Republican with a book, he wouldn’t sell any. But a Democrat out whacking Democrats sells books,” McAuliffe told CNN, urging Miller to switch parties. As a result of Miller’s complete abandonment of the Democratic Party, many other prominent Democrats have also stepped up their demands that Miller get out of the party. In reply, Georgia’s retiring senior senator says he was “born a Democrat and will die one.”