Zell Miller’s grandson enters race for Georgia’s lieutenant governor

Bryan Miller
Caption
Bryan Miller

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Zell Miller’s grandson is seeking to follow in the footsteps of the legendary politician by launching a campaign for Georgia’s No. 2 spot with a promise to strengthen the HOPE scholarship program his grandfather championed.

Bryan Miller said he will center his Democratic campaign for lieutenant governor on restoring the lottery-funded scholarship program “back to its original promise” promoted by his grandfather, who shepherded the scholarship through the Legislature during the first of his two terms as governor nearly 30 years ago.

“Since my grandfather created it, nearly 2 million Georgians have been able to go to college. And not enough poor rural students and minority students have been able to enjoy the full benefits of HOPE as intended,” the younger Miller said. “That’s something I want to fix.”

But unlike his grandfather, a history professor who was elected lieutenant governor after stints in the Legislature and roles in party leadership, Bryan Miller enters the race as a political newcomer with no elected experience. He’s most known for creating the Zell Miller Foundation, a nonprofit that works to promote bipartisan solutions, train young leaders and finance scholarships.

“My grandfather taught me how to use government to make a difference in peoples’ lives,” said Miller, who stepped down as leader of the institute earlier this year as he prepared for a potential bid for public office.

011215 ATLANTA: Former Govenor Zell Miller and First Lady Shirley are introduced in the balcony during the inauguration of Governor Nathan Deal to a second-term of office on the first day of the legislative session on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
011215 ATLANTA: Former Govenor Zell Miller and First Lady Shirley are introduced in the balcony during the inauguration of Governor Nathan Deal to a second-term of office on the first day of the legislative session on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Miller is the fourth Democrat to enter the race for lieutenant governor — and the first white candidate in the contest. State Reps. Erick Allen and Derrick Jackson, and political consultant Kolbey Gardner are also in the running. All three are Black. State Sen. Elena Parent of Atlanta is also considering joining the race.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller is the highest profile Republican in the race, and he’s already raised $2 million for his campaign. But state Sen. Burt Jones is expected to soon join the GOP contest, perhaps with former President Donald Trump’s seal of approval. Activist Jeanne Seaver is also running.

All are jostling to replace Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who announced in May that he would not seek a second term to instead promote his vision of a GOP in the post-Trump world.

Miller grew up in Young Harris, the mountain town that shaped his grandfather’s life, and was politically active from a young age. During his grandfather’s memorial service in 2018, Miller spoke movingly about a personal letter his grandfather wrote with 14 lessons he wanted to share with those closest to him.

The lessons ranged from deeply philosophical to downright blunt: “Whiners are terrible people to be around. Don’t be one.”

Miller, who now lives in Watkinsville, doesn’t see himself as a political iconoclast like his grandfather, who infuriated fellow Democrats with his conservative record in the U.S. Senate – and his embrace of President George W. Bush.

The younger Miller, too, dabbled in conservative politics, serving as Republican Doug Collins’ campaign manager during his winning 2012 campaign for a U.S. House seat. He calls himself a “Joe Biden Democrat” who is more socially liberal than his grandfather, and his platform embraces many of the president’s issues, including expanding Medicaid.

But throughout the interview, Miller repeatedly pivoted to the HOPE program, echoing other Democratic candidates who centered their campaigns on the popular scholarship.

The lottery-funded program once covered full tuition, along with books and other fees, for students with “B” averages attending public colleges and technical schools in Georgia. It also initially only went to students in families with incomes of less than $66,000 a year.

But the lottery brought in so much money the income cap was eliminated. Rising demand led Republicans to cut a deal with top Democrats in 2011 to slash the awards, leaving most students with a less generous version of the scholarship.

Miller would push for more funding for the higher education system to offset tuition costs, advocate for an income cap to ensure state aid goes to the neediest students and turn the lottery’s reserve account into a state endowment whose earnings are used to finance needs-based aid.

“My reason to get in this race is the HOPE scholarship. I’m thinking about the people we helped stay in school through the foundation – and the others we couldn’t,” Miller said. “If we’re successful, we’ll be able to deliver HOPE for them and their families. And that will change their lives forever.”