Zell Miller

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Zell Miller
Zell Miller

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 was a United States Senator from 2000 to 2005. In the last years of his career, he proved to be a maverick Democrat, backing Republican President George W. Bush over contender John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and frequently criticizing problems he sees in his own party. After not seeking reelection in 2004 he joined McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in the firm’s national Government Affairs practice.


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.

Political career

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 at Young Harris College, the University of Georgia, and Emory University.

Missing image
The official portrait of Gov. Zell Miller, D-Georgia, hangs in the Georgia State Capitol

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 of Georgia in 1990, defeating the Republican Johnny Isakson, after defeating Atlanta mayor Andrew Young in the primary. James Carville was Miller's campaign manager.

In 1992, Miller keynoted the Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City, 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."

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 battle emblem 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. Miller won reelection, but narrowly.

Some have since argued that the 1994 election was a key turning-point in Miller's career, arguing it gave him a desire to prove himself a cultural conservative. One cited piece of evidence of this: in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, Miller gradually shifted from being pro-choice to pro-life.

Others have argued that the events of 9/11 were even more of a turning point, leading Miller in his Senatorial career (see below) to address the 2004 Republican National Convention, also at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Miller is certainly one of the few (if not only) people to keynote both Republican and Democratic National Conventions.


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. While the Democratic Party's historic control of Georgian politics diminished during his tenure as lieutenant governor and governor, Miller remained popular and easily won his elections, demonstrating his ability to please members of both major parties in Georgia; he easily won a special election to keep the seat in November 2000. As Coverdell was last elected in 1998, Miller had a four-year term in the Senate before his retirement from politics in January 2005, following the conclusion of the 108th United States Congress.

Although Miller was a Democrat, he was very conservative as a U.S. Senator and was generally viewed as becoming opposed to his party. In 2004, he cosponsored a proposed Constitutional amendment (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:SJ00040:@@@P) that, if ratified, would have prohibited government, at any level, from recognizing any homosexual domestic partnerships. On Thu. Mar. 11th that year, he introduced legislation (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:S.2147:) that if law would have created a board of "shapers of opinions" (as he called it in his introductory speech) to advise broadcastors on content the government deemed acceptable or unacceptable, and to make automatic reappropriations of some of the revenue generated from media-"indecency" fines to pay for federal services directed through religious establishments. Later that year, he proposed a Constitutional amendment to repeal the 17th Amendment (this would transfer the right to elect U.S. senators from the people back to the state legislatures, as the Founders originally intended, prior to the amendment).

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 proven false with Miller's declaration, that he was "born a Democrat and will die one.". Whatever one's views of Miller's politics, he did indeed adhere to this declaration.

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 2004 Republican National Convention.

Miller argued in his book A National Party No More (authored and published in 2003) that the Democratic Party lost its majority because they do not stand for the same ideals that they used to in the era of John F. Kennedy. He argued 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 wondered why Miller had 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 into the Democratic Party and considers his party label "like a birthmark."

Speech at Republican National Convention

In his electrifying speech (http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20040902/ap_on_el_pr/cvn_miller_text_1), 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?"

Many loved the speech. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported afterwards,

"In Georgia's section of the Garden floor, delegates were joined by the state's top Republican leaders, including Gov. Sonny Perdue and U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. As Miller strode to the podium, the delegates chanted "Zell, Zell, Zell" and waved red, white and blue handkerchiefs.
Carolyn Meadows, a delegate from Cobb County, spoke of what it felt like to finally be able to cheer Georgia's oft-most popular politician.
"As a Republican, we never voted for him or supported him, but we always liked him," she said. "Now we love him."
"We are over the moon about him being here tonight," said Leslie Mattingly, a delegate and the wife of former U.S. Rep. Mac Mattingly, who joined her on the floor.

A commentator for US News and World Report compared the speech (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/opinion/baroneweb/mb_040902.htm) to the views and ideology of Andrew Jackson.

Many hated the speech (see below.)

Following the speech at the RNC04, Miller appeared in numerous media interviews. Two in particular garnered notice for his combative manner.

First, in an interview with CNN, Miller had a dispute (http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0409/01/se.03.html) with Judy Woodruff, Wolf Blitzer and Jeff Greenwell when they questioned him on the discrepancies in his speech. Their points included: that some of the weapons and weapon systems he criticized Kerry for not supporting were outdated and years ago planned for termination; that most of the votes Miller cited were cast in peacetime; and that one of his quotes of Kerry was made about the Vietnam War years ago, not recently about defense in general, as Zell suggested.

Second, and most [in]famously, Miller appeared in an interview with Chris Matthews on the MSNBC show Hardball. Here, Miller became visibly angry. Matthews attacked 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 military under Kerry would be armed with only "spitballs" with rhetoric from Democrats 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 questioning, Miller said, "I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel." (The interview was later parodied on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and by Darrell Hammond and Will Forte on Saturday Night Live.)

Critics and criticism

Although Miller was long popular among moderates, conservatives and liberals alike, and although many a Republican considered him one of the "gutsiest" Senators during his tenure in the Senate, he wasn't always thought of positively. Throughout his political career, his work, words and issue positions haven't been without criticism from any political side.

Changes in issue positions

Miller had been seen as a "flipflopper" (one who reverses issue positions quickly) and as non-ideological and unprincipled. Years before becoming a U.S. Senator, he had been tagged with the nickname "Zigzag Zell". In an interview with Newsweek conducted shortly after the general election of 2004, ex-Pres. Jimmy Carter, long a prominent Georgian Democrat, said he never supported Miller for any elective office (even for Governor) because he felt Miller was not an authentic Democrat because (as Carter felt) he always lacked populist values and ideals. Most of the national allegations of flip-flopping arose after his endorsement of George W. Bush in the 2004 Presidential Elections.

In 2004, in Washingtonian magazine's poll of congressional staffers, Miller was voted by Democratic staffers the most "Spineless" serving Senator. The same poll had Republican staffers voting him the second most "Gutsiest" serving Senator. Clearly, beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

The following are what are sometimed cited as examples of Miller "flipflopping":

During his gubernatorial campaign in 1990, a few weeks before indicating his support for a state lottery, Miller told some church-goers that he opposed a lottery. Also, in the 1980s he served two years on the board of his Georgia's leading anti-lottery group.

Miller touted his conservationist work as Governor. In his State of the State Address on Jan. 15th 1998, he said (http://ontheissues.org/Domestic/Zell_Miller_Environment.htm#5):

"One of our biggest success stories has been Preservation 2000, our program to protect more than 100,000 acres [405 km²] of natural land. Places like Little Tybee Island, Tallulah Gorge and Smithgall Woods. You are looking at someone shaped by that rugged land, because your Governor is a product of the North Georgia mountains. We created Preservation 2000 with ambitious goals to protect 100,000 acres [405 km²] of wildlife habitat and save it for future generations.

A press released (http://ontheissues.org/Domestic/Zell_Miller_Environment.htm#3) from his office, published on Sep. 11th 1996, read:

Governor Zell Miller today announced a new partnership in his River Care 2000 program, plus the acquisition of 5,700 acres [23 km²] of land to protect and improve the management of Georgia's rivers and streams. "Georgia's rivers are critical to the future success of this state," Governor Miller said. Our rivers are essential to our water supply and electric power generation, and our rivers and waterways are home to fish and wildlife habitat."
"The goal of River Care 2000 is simple," Governor Miller said. "To ensure our rivers are preserved for generations to come." Established in 1995, River Care 2000 is designed to protect and preserve the more than 70,150 miles of freshwater rivers and streams in Georgia. The program is modeled after Governor Miller’s highly successful Preservation 2000 program, which since 1991 has acquired more than 101,000 acres [409 km²] of natural lands at 56 sites throughout the state for conservation, habitat protection and public recreational purposes.

However, as a Senator, Miller had much different positions on environmental issues. He voted (http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=107&session=1&vote=00006) to confirm Gale Norton (who generally opposed both public conservationist efforts and laws against pollution) as the secretary of U.S Dept. of the Interior (an executive department entrusted with enforcing laws to protect environment). He voted (Senate vote #47, 2002 (http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=107&session=2&vote=00047)) to terminate standards on fuel efficiency (S.Amdt.2997, 2002 (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:SP2997:)). He favored (http://ontheissues.org/International/Zell_Miller_Energy_+_Oil.htm#2003-59) drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

As governor, he was a strong advocate of public education. On Dec. 19th 1995, his office annouced his proposal for $1 billion more in spending on education (http://ontheissues.org/Social/Zell_Miller_Education.htm#6). However, as a Senator, he once voted for $448 billion in tax breaks rather than to spend $250 billion on education (and other money on reduction of the national debt) (Senate vote #69, 2001 (http://ontheissues.org/Social/Zell_Miller_Education.htm#2001-69)). As a Senator he voted with the Nat'l Education Assn. only 25% of the time (supposedly indicating a record of voting against public educations) (http://ontheissues.org/Social/Zell_Miller_Education.htm#03n-NEA).

In 2004, he was an extreme critic of John Kerry, who Miller said wanted weak national defense and "to fight yesterday's war". However, at a dinner in Atlanta in 2001, Miller gave this introduction to Kerry:

My job tonight is an easy one: to present to you one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders --- and a good friend. . . . In his 16 years in the Senate, John Kerry . . . has worked to strengthen our military, reform public education, boost the economy and protect the environment.

In 2002, Miller wrote an editorial for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution stating that --- citing the concerns of Georgians who had spoken to him about the issue --- he wouldn't support Pres. Bush's proposed war against Iraq unless Bush could demonstrate that the Iraq was uncontainable. (Miller noted that Soviet Union was an enemy that had nuclear missiles capable could reach the U.S., but that the U.S. never engage in any true war with that nation.) He also wrote that Bush should assure miltilateral support for any such invasion and assure that the war was not for oil. Days later, Miller voted for war against Iraq, and publicly said that Iraq was a threat. From then on, he was as fervant supporter of the war and a critic of those opposed to it.

Controversial opinions

Miller has also been controversial for harsh, often inflammatory remarks made in public. These are some examples of some public statements subject to scrutiny:

On May 13th 2004, on the Senate floor, Miller said (though he also denounced the torture) that he refused to join in the outrage over American soldiers' torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison, because the expressed dismay was a "national act of contrition." [1] (http://miller.senate.gov/press/2004/05-13-04prison.html)

In his keynote speech at the RNC04, Miller said, "Our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief." To this the The Daily Show anchor Jon Stewart sarcastically responded, "Yes, how dare they field a candidate! And during an election year!" An article for The New Republic magazine published shortly after Miller's speech began with Miller's statement alongside a notorious quote from U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy, in order to display what the author percieved as the similarities between Miller's speech and McCarthy's views.

On Feb. 12th 2004 on the Senatorial floor, Miller tried to argue that rap music, nontheocratic government, homosexual marriage, and desecration of the American flag, all were destroying the nation. He said that censorship, converting the federal government into a state that preferred Christianity, and banning homosexual marriage, were all "of utmost importance". "Time is running out in this Senate and on this earth," he said. [2] (http://miller.senate.gov/video/MillerFS02_12_04.rm)

Critisms of speech at RNC04

Democrats and some Republican expressed disgust at Miller's the speech at the Republican Nat'l Convention. Many were quick to note the factual discrepancies in Miller's speech. Some compared Miller's keynote speech to Pat Buchanan's percievably racist keynote speech at the Republican Nat'l Convention of 1992, in which Buchanan called for a "religious war" against modern culture. In an interview on the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart after the speech, U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican who was endorsing Pres. Bush, expressed some indifference to the speech. Two days after Miller's speech, NBC News reported (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5897622/) that the day after the speech "the Bush campaign . . . led by the first lady . . . backed away . . . from Miller's savage attack . . ., insisting that the estranged Democrat was speaking only for himself," and on the same day "Miller and his wife were removed from the list of dignitaries who would be sitting in the first family's box during the president’s acceptance speech". (Although reporters were told the removal was because Miller would be too busy with interviews, there were no known media interviews conducted during the time of Pres. Bush's speech.) Only hours before that report, First Lady Laura Bush, to an interviewer, said of Miller's speech, "I don’t know that we share that point of view."

Opposition to the Democratic Party

Given his increasingly conservative ideology and increasing political distance from the Democratic Party, many Democratic leaders publicly claimed that Miller was no longer a true Democrat. He did in fact stop meeting with the Democratic Party's Senatorial caucus and instead sat in on the Republican one.

Some have said that Miller remained a Democrat because of the increased attention he got when he attacked 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 almost complete abandonment of the Democratic Party, many other prominent Democrats also stepped up their demands that Miller get out of the party.

Remarks on Bush re-election

After Bush was re-elected, Miller referred the Republican victories in that election as a sign that Democrats didn't relate to most Americans. Calling for Democrats to change their message, he authored an editorial, which appeared in the Washington Times on Nov. 4th 2004, in which he wrote:

"Fiscal responsibility is unbelievable in the face of massive new spending promises. A foreign policy based on the strength of 'allies' like France is unacceptable . . . A strong national defense policy is just not believable coming from a candidate who built a career as an anti-war veteran, an anti-military candidate and an anti-action senator. . . . When will national Democrats sober up and admit that that dog won't hunt? Secular socialism, heavy taxes, big spending, weak defense, limitless lawsuits and heavy regulation - that pack of beagles hasn't caught a rabbit in the South or Midwest in years." [3] (http://www.washtimes.com/national/20041104-121406-2051r.htm)


Missing image
A Deficit of Decency, 2005

By Zell Miller:

  • 1975: Mountains Within Me
  • 1983: Great Georgians
  • 1985: They Heard Georgia Singing
  • 1997: Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned In the Marines
  • 1999: The First Battalion of the 28th Marines on Iwo Jima: A Day-By-Day History from Personal Accounts and Official Reports, With Complete Muster Rolls, also by Robert E. Allen
  • 2003: A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat ISBN 0974537616
  • 2003: foreword to What'll Ya Have: A History of the Varsity by Dick Parker
  • 2005: A Deficit Of Decency ISBN 0974537632

About Zell Miller:

  • 1998: "Listen to this Voice" Selected Speeches of Governor Zell Miller
  • 1999: Zell, The Governor Who Gave Georgia HOPE by Richard Hyatt
  • 1999: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: The Miller Record

External links

Preceded by:
Joe Frank Harris
Governors of Georgia
Succeeded by:
Roy Barnes
Preceded by:
Paul Coverdell
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
Succeeded by:
Johnny Isakson

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