One of the Last Post-Watergate Reformers Leaving Congress

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: House Committee on Education and the Workforce Raning Member Rep. George Miller (D-CA) talks with children from the Head Start program at the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center during a rally to call for an end to the partial federal government shut down and fund the comprehensive education, health and nutrition service for low-income children and their families outside the U.S. Capitol October 2, 2013 in Washington, DC. The federal government is in the second day of a partial shutdown after House Republicans and Senate Democrats refused to agree on a budget. 
National Journal
Mike Magner
Add to Briefcase
Mike Magner
Jan. 13, 2014, 5:35 p.m.

After a dilap­id­ated gar­ment fact­ory col­lapsed in Bangladesh last spring, killing more than 1,100 work­ers, only one mem­ber of Con­gress made the trip halfway around the world to find out what happened.

Demo­crat­ic Rep. George Miller, who an­nounced Monday that he will re­tire after 40 years in the House, traveled to Bangladesh just weeks after the dis­aster and re­turned to his Cali­for­nia dis­trict with strong words for U.S. com­pan­ies that do busi­ness with over­seas sweat shops.

“I met with vic­tims in the hos­pit­als who lost limbs, lost their legs, their arms, their hands,” Miller told the San Fran­cisco Chron­icle. “It was just a very, very sad event, to re­cog­nize how badly these in­di­vidu­als had been dam­aged be­cause of the care­less­ness of the in­dustry and the gov­ern­ment.”

Former Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., who worked closely with Miller for years on the House Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force Com­mit­tee, was not sur­prised that Miller made the long trip. “That would fit his val­ues,” Kildee said Monday.

On labor is­sues, health care, en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion, and es­pe­cially edu­ca­tion, Miller has long been a well-in­formed and out­spoken ad­voc­ate for the dis­ad­vant­aged and down­trod­den. “The guy is bril­liant when it comes to the fed­er­al role in edu­ca­tion,” Kildee said.

Miller, 68, ac­know­ledged his top pri­or­it­ies in a state­ment Monday an­noun­cing his plans to re­tire at the end of this Con­gress.

“I’m proud of what I have been able to ac­com­plish on be­half of chil­dren, work­ing people, and the en­vir­on­ment, in my dis­trict and for our coun­try, es­pe­cially pas­sage of na­tion­al health care re­form,” he said. “I have not won every fight that I have waged. And there re­main, of course, many crit­ic­al chal­lenges wait­ing to be ad­dressed. But I have no re­grets about what I have ac­com­plished and what I have tried to ac­com­plish in the pub­lic in­terest.

“Now, I look for­ward to one last year in Con­gress fight­ing the good fight and then work­ing in new ven­ues on the is­sues that have in­spired me, and I will not seek reelec­tion this fall. What a won­der­ful ex­per­i­ence this has been.”

Now the fifth-rank­ing mem­ber of the House, Miller’s de­par­ture will mean just two oth­er mem­bers who entered Con­gress in the two elec­tions after the Wa­ter­gate scan­dal — Reps. Henry Wax­man, D-Cal­if., and Nick Ra­hall, D-W.Va. — will re­main, as­sum­ing they are reelec­ted this year.

The son of a state sen­at­or, Miller star­ted in polit­ics as an aide to Cali­for­nia Sen­ate lead­er George Mo­scone, who was later the may­or of San Fran­cisco. Miller won his first term in the House in 1974 with 56 per­cent of the vote, and his win­ning per­cent­age nev­er fell be­low that level in 19 sub­sequent elec­tions.

For many years Miller has been ranked by Na­tion­al Journ­al as one of the most lib­er­al mem­bers of Con­gress, and he is also one of the closest ad­visers to former Speak­er and cur­rent House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, whose dis­trict is not far from Miller’s in the San Fran­cisco area. The late colum­nist Robert Novak once wrote that Miller was Pelosi’s “con­sigliere, al­ways at her side.”

That was cer­tainly true dur­ing the di­vis­ive de­bate on health care re­form, when Miller worked all hours to en­sure that Pres­id­ent Obama’s top pri­or­ity be­came real­ity. “He would not let it die,” Kildee said.

Just last month the pro­gress­ive magazine The Na­tion named Miller “the most valu­able mem­ber of the House” for his work on the min­im­um wage, food stamps, gar­ment-work­er safety, and fair-trade policy. “The seni­or Demo­crat on the power­ful Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force Com­mit­tee, Miller has been in the House since 1975,” the magazine said. “But the Cali­for­nia con­gress­man has lost none of his fire.”

In­deed, Miller’s re­tire­ment state­ment gave no in­dic­a­tion that he would be let­ting up. “I be­lieve that we are in the midst of one of the most ex­cit­ing and crit­ic­al times for edu­ca­tion­al achieve­ment, teach­er em­power­ment, and school re­form,” he said. “This in­cludes the smart ap­plic­a­tion and use of tech­no­logy that of­fers a re­mark­able op­por­tun­ity to ad­dress and re­duce per­sist­ent prob­lems in Amer­ic­an edu­ca­tion, like im­prov­ing edu­ca­tion­al equity, strength­en­ing teach­er per­form­ance, and re­vo­lu­tion­iz­ing the teach­ing and learn­ing en­vir­on­ment in schools.

“This type of edu­ca­tion re­form and in­nov­at­ive think­ing can change the lives of mil­lions of Amer­ic­an chil­dren, strengthen our com­munit­ies, and re­vital­ize our eco­nomy,” Miller said. “Un­for­tu­nately, that’s not on this Con­gress’s agenda. But these re­forms must hap­pen, and I want to be part of them.”

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