WASHINGTON Bay Area Rep. George Miller announced his retirement Monday, ending a 40-year congressional run that reshaped California water, public lands and politics.
An old-fashioned liberal who followed his fathers footsteps into public life, Miller, 68, surprised Capitol Hill with the decision, which he said has been percolating since the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
When we passed the Affordable Care Act, it was such a big part of why I came to Congress in the first place, Miller said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. I started to think, What do you do to top this?
While stressing he was in good health, Miller also pointedly noted that he has flown 5 million miles during a congressional career in which he has effectively commuted cross-country between the East Coast and his Bay Area congressional district, where his family has remained.
My kids have been telling me a long time to come home, Miller said.
The veteran Democratic congressman alerted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last week to his retirement decision, and on Monday he began informing other House colleagues. He elaborated on his decision-making in a news conference Monday morning at his congressional district office in Richmond, the East Bay city he was born in and has long represented.
Since his initial election to the House in 1974, as part of the post-Watergate class of reform-minded Democrats, Miller learned to manipulate the levers of power as he ascended in seniority. As chair of the House Natural Resources Committee in the early 1990s, he won praise from environmentalists and infuriated farmers, while he redirected California water use through passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. The law steered more water to fish and wildlife protection, tightened irrigation deliveries and spawned myriad lawsuits.
Allied with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Miller also successfully pushed an ambitious 1994 California desert protection act that designated the 3.3 million-acre Death Valley National Park and the 790,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park, among other provisions.
Later, as a senior member of the House education panel, Miller worked closely with Republicans to pass the No Child Left Behind education law revisions during the George W. Bush administration. The work earned him his own presidential nickname Bush dubbed the former high school football player Big George as well as the regard of some GOP partisans.
No one would confuse me and George Miller for ideological soul mates, but during our years serving together we got things done on behalf of the American people, thanks in no small part to his dedication and willingness to work for the greater good, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
Boehners praise was particularly telling because of Millers own partisan role as a top lieutenant to Pelosi. Miller has worked closely with the San Francisco Democrat since she first arrived in Congress in 1987. She later hired as her chief of staff John Lawrence, who served as Millers top staffer for three decades.
He has been a close friend since my first days in the House, Pelosi said of Miller in a statement, calling her ally the model of the serious, substantive and successful legislator.
Millers voting record has also marked him as one of the Houses most consistent liberals, as he has earned 100 percent vote scores from NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Education Association and Defenders of Wildlife, and 0 percent scores from groups further to the political right, such as the National Rifle Association. He is known, at times, to express his views vehemently and with escalating volume.
George is a great progressive voice who made it his lifes work to fight for policies that benefit children and families, said Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who was also first elected to the House in 1974.
A longtime liberal like Miller, Harkin has also announced his retirement.
Only four other current House members have served in Congress longer than Miller, and theres only one other remaining member of the class of 1974 Rep. Henry Waxman, a Los Angeles Democrat and fellow liberal.
The son of George P. Miller, a former state senator, Miller graduated from San Francisco State University and the law school at the University of California, Davis. Married and the father of two sons, Miller has also gained some Capitol Hill repute for the row house he shares during the week with several other Democratic members of Congress. It is, as The New York Times once put it, inelegantly decorated.
Miller said he would like to continue to pursue the education reform agenda once he departs the House at the end of this year, and indicated that he anticipates exploring other venues for pursuing his interests. As of last September, his campaign treasury reported having $349,073 on hand.