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Zell Miller
United States Senator
from Georgia

In office
July 24, 2000 – January 3, 2005
Preceded by Paul Coverdell
Succeeded by Johnny Isakson
79th Governor of Georgia

In office
January 14, 1991 – January 11, 1999
Lieutenant Pierre Howard
Preceded by Joe Frank Harris
Succeeded by Roy Barnes
8th Lieutenant Governor of Georgia

In office
January 14, 1975 – January 14, 1991
Governor George Busbee
Joe Frank Harris
Preceded by Lester Maddox
Succeeded by Pierre Howard
Member of the Georgia State Senate

In office
Personal details
Born Zell Bryan Miller
February 24, 1932(1932-02-24) (age 90)
Young Harris, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Shirley Carver
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1953–1956
Rank USMC-E5.svg Sergeant

Zell Bryan Miller (born February 24, 1932) is an American author and politician from the U.S. state of Georgia. A Democrat, Miller served as lieutenant governor from 1975 to 1991, 79th Governor of Georgia from 1991 to 1999, and as U.S. Senator from 2000 to 2005.

Miller is a conservative Democrat. In 2004, he supported Republican President George W. Bush against the Democratic nominee John Kerry in the presidential election. Miller has been a keynote speaker at both major American political parties' national conventions—Democratic in 1992 and Republican in 2004.

He did not seek re-election to the Senate in 2004. After retiring from the Senate, he joined the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge as a non-lawyer professional in the firm's national government affairs practice.[1] Miller was also a Fox News Channel contributor.

Early life and military career

Miller was born in the small mountain town of Young Harris, Georgia. His father, Stephen Grady Miller, died when Miller was an infant, and the future politician was raised by his widowed mother, Birdie Bryan.[2] As a child, Miller lived both in Young Harris and Atlanta. Today, Miller lives in the old Young Harris home. Miller spent his first two years of college at Young Harris College in his home town. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University of Georgia.

Less than a month after the Korean War armistice (a cessation of hostilities), Miller wound up in a drunk tank in North Georgia Mountains. Miller stated later that this incident was the lowest point of his life.[3] Upon his release, Miller enlisted in the Marines. During his three years in the United States Marine Corps, Miller attained the rank of sergeant. He often refers to the value of his experience in the Marine Corps in his writing and stump speeches; in his book on the subject, entitled Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines, he wrote:

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.

In addition to serving as an elected official, Miller taught at Young Harris College, University of Georgia, and Emory University.

Political career

Miller as Lieutenant Governor in 1975

Miller's parents were both involved in local politics in the North Georgia mountains. Miller, a Democrat, was mayor of Young Harris from 1959 to 1960, and was elected to two terms as a Georgia state senator from 1961 until 1964.[4] In 1964 and 1966, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the United States House of Representatives. He endorsed segregation in both races. He later served in state government and in the Georgia Democratic Party, and was the Georgia state chairman for Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign.[5] Miller's first experience in the executive branch of government was as Chief of Staff for Georgia 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, making him the longest-serving lieutenant governor in Georgia history. In 1980, Miller unsuccessfully challenged Herman Talmadge in the Democratic primary for his seat in the United States Senate.


Miller was elected governor of Georgia in 1990, defeating Republican Johnny Isakson (who later became his successor as U.S. Senator) after defeating Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and future Governor Roy Barnes in the primary. Miller campaigned on the concept of term limits and pledged to seek only a single term as governor. He later ran for and won re-election in 1994. James Carville was Miller's campaign manager.

In 1991, Miller endorsed Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas for President of the United States.[6] Miller gave the keynote speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City.[6] In two oft-recalled lines, Miller said that President George H. W. Bush "just doesn't get it," and he remarked of a statement by Vice President Dan Quayle:

I know what Dan Quayle means when he says it's best for children to have two parents. You bet it is! And it would be nice for them to have trust funds, too. We can't all be born rich and handsome and lucky. And that's why we have a Democratic Party. My family would still be isolated and destitute if we had not had F.D.R.'s Democratic brand of government. I made it because Franklin Delano Roosevelt energized this nation. I made it because Harry Truman fought for working families like mine. I made it because John Kennedy's rising tide lifted even our tiny boat. I made it because Lyndon Johnson showed America that people who were born poor didn't have to die poor. And I made it because a man with whom I served in the Georgia Senate, a man named Jimmy Carter, brought honesty and decency and integrity to public service.[7]

Miller (right) with Al and Tipper Gore in 1998

As governor, Miller was a staunch promoter of public education. He helped found the HOPE Scholarship, which paid for the college tuition of Georgia students who both established a GPA of 3.0 in high school and maintained the same while in college, and who were from families earning less than $66,000 per year.[8] The HOPE Scholarships were funded by revenue collected from the state lottery. In December 1995, his office announced a proposal for $1 billion more in spending on education.[9] HOPE won praise from national Democratic leaders. The HOPE Scholarship program still to this day provides Georgia students with an opportunity to attend a public college or university, who otherwise may have no opportunity to do so.

Miller's biggest election battle came in 1994. That election was a turning point in Miller's career, arguing it gave him a desire to prove himself a cultural conservative. One cited piece of evidence is that in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, he gradually shifted from being pro-choice to pro-life.

Upon leaving the governor's office in January 1999, Miller accepted teaching positions at Young Harris College, Emory University, and the University of Georgia. He was a visiting professor at all three institutions when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate.


Miller's successor as governor, Roy Barnes, appointed Miller to a U.S. Senate seat following the death of Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell in July 2000. While the Democratic Party's historic control of Georgia politics had waned for years, Miller remained popular. He easily won a special election to keep the seat in November 2000. During the campaign to keep the seat, Miller spoke warmly of his late friend Coverdell, praised Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, and promised to work for bipartisanship in the Senate.

As Coverdell had last been elected in 1998, Miller had four years remaining in the Senate term before his retirement from politics in January 2005, following the conclusion of the 108th United States Congress.

Throughout Zell Miller's career as a U.S. Senator he showed increasing support for Republicans and increasing criticism of Democrats, leading some to question whether his fellow Democrats in the Senate had given him a lukewarm reception. However, given his beginnings as a conservative southern Democrat, it is likely he found his views drastically different from the more liberal ideology of the national party.[citation needed]

During 2001 and 2002, when liberal Republican senators from New England like James Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee threatened to (which they 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 dispelled with Miller saying, "I'll be a Democrat 'til the day I die."[10]

In 2002, Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) was involved in a contentious re-election campaign against Republican Congressman Saxby Chambliss. The race galvanized Democrats across the nation, who said Chambliss had questioned the patriotism of Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran. Miller remained true to the Democrats in this case, campaigning hard for Cleland despite their ideological differences. But after Chambliss won, Miller formed a close working relationship with him. He also moved even further to the right, presumably because it had become increasingly difficult for a Democrat to win statewide in Georgia.

Miller and Saxby Chambliss in 2004

In 2003, Miller announced that he would not seek re-election after completing his term in the Senate.[11] He also announced that he would support President George W. Bush in the 2004 rather than any of the nine candidates then competing for his own party's nomination.[12] He maintained 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 a keynote speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

In 2004, he cosponsored the Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution.[13] If it had been ratified, it would have declared that marriage in the United States only consists of the union of a man and a woman, and would have prohibited state and the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and same-sex domestic partnerships.[14] On March 11 of that year, he introduced the Broadcast Decency Responsibility and Enforcement Act,[15] that would have created a Council of Decency to advise the Federal Communications Commission on standards of decency in broadcasting.[16] The Council would have consisted of three individuals from the ministry, three broadcast industry representatives, and three school teachers.[16] The money from penalties from obscene, indecent, and profane broadcasts would have been given to faith-based organizations.[16]

Later that year, he proposed a Constitutional amendment to repeal the 17th Amendment.[17] If the amendment had been ratified, the members of state legislatures would elect members to the United States Senate, rather than the residents of the states.[17]

Miller established himself as a conservative on virtually all economic issues. He was the first Democrat in the Senate to publicly declare his support for the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, a broad-based tax cut which was criticized by opponents for favoring the rich and being fiscally irresponsible. Miller was the only Democrat to vote against an amendment to that same bill submitted by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to scale back portions of that tax cut in order to spend more on education and debt reduction. He strongly opposed the estate tax and voted a number of times for its repeal. He also advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Miller argued in his book A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat (authored and published in 2003) that the Democratic Party lost its majority because it does not stand for the same ideals that it did 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 the America of today and that the Republican Party now embraces the conservative Democratic ideals that he has held for so long. The book spent nine weeks in the New York Times Best Seller list for hardback non-fiction, rising to fourth position.[18]

Despite Miller's frequent disagreements with his own party, he did occasionally support some of their positions. For example, he was a strong supporter of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. In Miller's view the provisions of the bill, limiting donations to candidates for political office, should have gone even further. Miller voted with all his fellow Democratic senators for the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act, and later he voted with virtually all fellow Democrats to allow American consumers to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. This bill was strongly opposed by American pharmaceutical companies. Miller also, in October 2003, voted with most of his party to prohibit the enforcement of the ban on travel to Cuba. And despite his support of a Federal Marriage Amendment, on June 15, 2004, Miller again voted with all his fellow Democratic senators to include sexual orientation in hate crime laws with the Matthew Shepard Act. The bill to enable the Act was approved by a voice vote in the Senate and added to a Department of Defense Authorization bill, but was removed following a veto threat by President George W. Bush, opposition by the House Republican leadership, and opposition to unrelated provisions of the bill regarding the Iraq War.[19]

Democratic Congresswoman Denise Majette sought to fill Miller's Senate seat, but lost the 2004 election to Republican Johnny Isakson, who was endorsed by Miller.

Speech at 2004 Republican National Convention

In his keynote convention speech, delivered on September 1, 2004, Miller criticized the current state of the Democratic Party. He said, "No pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two senators from Massachusetts – Ted Kennedy and John Kerry." He also criticized John Kerry's Senate voting record, claiming that Kerry's votes against bills for defense and weapon systems indicated support for weakening U.S. military strength.

The B-1 bomber, that Senator Kerry opposed, dropped 40 percent of the bombs in the first six months of Enduring Freedom. The B-2 bomber, that Senator Kerry opposed, delivered air strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hussein's command post in Iraq. The F-14A Tomcats, that Senator Kerry opposed, shot down Khadafi's Libyan MiGs over the Gulf of Sidra. The modernized F-14D, that Senator Kerry opposed, delivered missile strikes against Tora Bora. The Apache helicopter, that Senator Kerry opposed, took out those Republican Guard tanks in Kuwait in the Gulf War. The F-15 Eagles, that Senator Kerry opposed, flew cover over our Nation's Capital and this very city after 9/11. I could go on and on and on: against the Patriot Missile that shot down Saddam Hussein's scud missiles over Israel; against the Aegis air-defense cruiser; against the Strategic Defense Initiative; against the Trident missile; against, against, against. This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?[20]

The speech was well received by the convention attendees, especially the Georgia delegates. Conservative commentator Michael Barone compared the speech to the views and ideology of Andrew Jackson.[21]

Miller's combative reaction to post-speech media interviews received almost as much attention as the speech itself. First, in an interview with CNN, Miller had a dispute with Judy Woodruff, Wolf Blitzer, and Jeff Greenfield when they questioned him on his speech, particularly on whether he had misinterpreted the context and full content of Kerry's votes, and the fact that Dick Cheney, as Defense Secretary, had opposed some of the same programs he attacked Kerry for voting against.[22]

Shortly thereafter, Miller appeared in an interview with Chris Matthews on the MSNBC show Hardball. Here, Miller became visibly angry. Matthews criticized 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 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." Miller angrily told Matthews to "get out of my face," and declared, "I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel." At the conclusion of the interview, Matthews asked "Let's be friends," which Miller ignored.[23] Miller later said about the interview, "That was terrible. I embarrassed myself. I’d rather it had not happened."[24]

Remarks on Bush election, 2004

After Bush won the election of 2004, Miller referred to the Republican victories in that election (including a sweep of five open Senate seats in the South) as a sign that Democrats did not relate to most Americans. Calling for Democrats to change their message, he authored a column, which appeared in the Washington Times on November 4, 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.[25]

Support for Republicans

Although nominally a member of the Democratic Party, Miller has endorsed Republicans since at least 2004. He backed Republican President George W. Bush over Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and since 2003 has frequently criticized the Democratic Party, and has publicly supported several Republican candidates. In 2006, Miller did voice-overs (narrations) for Republican candidate commercials in Georgia state elections (George "Sonny" Perdue and Ralph Reed).

He declared early in 2008 that he would not support either Senator Barack Obama or Senator Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. He supported Senator John McCain instead. After Obama was elected president and Democrats increased their majorities in the House and Senate, he endorsed Republican Saxby Chambliss in the Senate run-off against Democrat Jim Martin and criticized Obama over "spreading the wealth."[26]

In 2012, Miller served as the national co-chair to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.[27] The same year, Miller endorsed Doug Collins, the Republican candidate in the 9th District of Georgia congressional race.[24] Miller also endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for president in 2012.[citation needed]

In 2014, Miller endorsed major Georgia candidates in both parties. He made a TV ad calling for the election of Michelle Nunn, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate. He appeared in the ad with her, saying he was "angry about what's going on in Washington, partisanship over patriotism" and praised Nunn as a "bridge-builder, not a bridge-burner." [28] But Miller also made a TV ad for Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's re-election campaign. Nunn lost her Senate bid, while Deal was re-elected.

Life after politics

In August 2005, President Bush appointed Miller to the American Battle Monuments Commission.[29]

In 2005, Miller was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association.[30]

He is a Freemason.[31]

The former Student Learning Center (SLC) at the University of Georgia was renamed to the Zell B. Miller Learning Center (Miller Learning Center or MLC for short) in October 2010.

Miller's health took a downward turn in the late 2000s when he developed shingles and subsequently suffered two falls that resulted in broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a broken back. Today Miller walks with a cane and has an electronic device implanted in his body that dispenses a pain killer when activated by remote control.[24]

As of October 2017, Miller has officially retired from public life and is undergoing treatment for Parkinson's disease.[32]

Justice Sunday II

Miller was a speaker at "Justice Sunday II," an event organized by conservative Christian evangelicals to combat alleged liberal bias in the federal judiciary of the United States. The event was organized by Tony Perkins and James Dobson, and held in Nashville, Tennessee on August 14, 2005.

Miller criticized the United States Supreme Court, saying that it had "removed prayer from our public schools … legalized the barbaric killing of unborn babies and it is ready to discard like an outdated hula hoop the universal institution of marriage between a man and a woman."[33]


In 1998, he received an honorary degree in Doctor of Laws from Oglethorpe University.[34]

See also

  • Conservative Democrat
  • List of U.S. political appointments that crossed party lines


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
  • 2003: foreword to What'll Ya Have: A History of the Varsity by Dick Parker
  • 2005: A Deficit Of Decency
  • 2005: foreword to "Indivisible: Uniting Values for a Divided America" by Martha Zoller
  • 2007: "The Miracle of Brasstown Valley"
  • 2009: "Purt Nigh Gone: The Old Mountain Ways"

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


  1. "McKenna Long & Aldridge: Zell Miller". Archived from the original on April 29, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  2. Blackwood, Harris: "Zell pens history of Young Harris, signs copies of new book today" Gainesville Times, December 11, 2007
  3. Miller, Zell (1997). Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines. Atlanta, Georgia: Longstreet Press. ISBN 1-56352-387-6. 
  4. Georgia Official and Statistical Register, 1985-1988
  6. 6.0 6.1 Baum, Geraldine (July 13, 1992). "'92 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION : 3 Keynote Speakers Profiled". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  7. Zell, Miller (July 14, 1992). "In Their Own Words: Excerpts From Addresses by Keynote Speakers at Democratic Convention". The New York Times. 
  8. "Scholarships from lottery begin tonight". Rome News-Tribune. Google News Archive. May 28, 1993. p. 8A.,7053912&dq=helping-outstanding-pupils-educationally+zell-miller. 
  9. "Zell Miller on Education". Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  10. "'Zigzag Zell' Shrugs Off Criticism". Fox News. August 30, 2004.,2933,130626,00.html. 
  11. "Georgia's Miller won't seek re-election". CNN. January 8, 2003. 
  12. Barnes, Fred (October 29, 2003). "Zell Miller Endorses Bush". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  13. "S.J.RES.30: Federal Marriage Amendment". THOMAS. Library of Congress. 
  14. "Congressional Research Service Summary of S.J.RES.30: Federal Marriage Amendment". THOMAS. Library of Congress. 
  15. "S. 2147: Broadcast Decency Responsibility and Enforcement Act". THOMAS. Library of Congress. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "S. 2147: Broadcast Decency Responsibility and Enforcement Act". THOMAS. Library of Congress. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 "S.J.RES.35: To repeal the seventeenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States". THOMAS. Library of Congress. 
  18. Garner, Dwight (May 15, 2005). "REBEL ZELL". The New York Times. Retrieved October 8, 2008. 
  19. "The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act / Matthew Shepard Act (H.R. 1592 / S. 1105)". October 6, 2008. Retrieved November 20, 2008. 
  20. Michael E. Eidenmuller (September 1, 2004). "Zell Miller – 2004 Republican National Convention Address". American Rhetoric. Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  21. Barone, Michael. "The National Interest: The Jacksonian Persuasion (9/2/04)". Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  22. "– Transcripts". September 1, 2004. Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  23. "Zell Miller's Hardball interview – Hardball with Chris Matthews –". MSNBC. April 26, 2005. Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Galloway, Jim (July 21, 2012). "A rare word from Zell Miller: ‘I had a late life conversion’". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  25. Miller, Zell (November 5, 2004). "Freedom Victory Is Like That of Lincoln". Lakeland Ledger (Florida). Cox News Service.,1985308. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  26. Tharpe, Jim (November 27, 2008). "Miller says Chambliss is only man left to halt ‘far-left agenda’". Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  27. McCaffrey, Shannon. "Gingrich remains a candidate, but how serious?" Associated Press, June 10, 2011.
  29. "Bush Asks Zell Miller to Oversee Battle Monuments". Fox News via AP. August 10, 2005.,2933,165280,00.html. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  30. "NRA Announces New Officers". National Rifle Association. April 19, 2005. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  31. Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Freemasons, politicians, Georgia". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  33. Edsall, Thomas B. (August 15, 2005). "Conservatives Rally for Justices". Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  34. "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Retrieved March 5, 2015. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Lester Maddox
Lieutenant Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Pierre Howard
Preceded by
Joe Frank Harris
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Roy Barnes
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joe Frank Harris
Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
1990, 1994
Succeeded by
Roy Barnes
Preceded by
Ann Richards
Keynote Speaker of the Democratic National Convention
Served alongside: Bill Bradley, Barbara Jordan
Succeeded by
Evan Bayh
Preceded by
Michael Coles
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Georgia
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Denise Majette
Preceded by
John McCain
Colin Powell
Keynote Speaker of the Republican National Convention
Succeeded by
Rudy Giuliani
United States Senate
Preceded by
Paul Coverdell
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
Served alongside: Max Cleland, Saxby Chambliss
Succeeded by
Johnny Isakson

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