The Miller Institute for Public Policy held its first event in honor of its namesake as a kickoff coinciding with the former governor’s 85th birthday and the 25th anniversary of the Georgia Lottery and its central role in funding Georgia education programs. Due to some health issues, although he is doing okay, Miller was not able to attend.
The evening was host to a plethora of dignitaries and speakers of note who sent along birthday greetings and praised Miller’s legacy of bipartisanship and, particularly, the HOPE Scholarship. Georgia Lottery President and CEO Debbie Alford noted the lottery has transferred more than $18 billion to Georgia students since its inception and Hope Scholar Jennifer Abrams was thankful for the path to education for so many students that otherwise might not have the opportunity.
Miller’s grandson, Bryan Miller, is the executive director of the Institute and welcomed attendees to the dinner. “I went to Zell and Shirley last August with the idea to create a bipartisan institute that would bring Republicans and Democrats together to tackle the critical issues facing Georgians today. I told them I wanted to promote public service and build on the work they spent their entire adult lives fighting for.”
Miller recognized the challenges of seeking bipartisan solutions in today’s political environment. “We live in a dark and bitter political climate. People, I am sure many in this room, are genuinely worried about their future, their children’s future, and what type of world they will grow up in. There is no easy solution to solving this problem. And I do not stand before you today pretending to have one. I do stand before you today to say this. You are worth finding an answer. Your children are worth finding an answer. Our local communities, our state, and our nation are worth finding an answer.”
The old saying says that “time heals all wounds” and judging by the numerous Democrats turning out in Miller’s honor, enough time has passed since Miller’s controversial appearance at the 2004 Republican National Convention endorsing George W. Bush. Democrat strategist Paul Begala, who worked on Miller’s campaign in 1990, was one of the speakers and said that the former Governor changed his life. He said he always worked to reach across the aisle and work with all parties to get things done. President Bill Clinton sent in a video message celebrating Miller. “From the house his mother built in Young Harris to the governor’s mansion in Atlanta to the halls of the US Senate, Zell Miller’s incredible journey has been guided by an unshakable belief in building an America where everyone can succeed. Zell made it his mission to create opportunity for those like him who weren’t born with much besides their wits, strength, determination, a willingness to work and a strong belief in the American dream.”
The recipient of that famous Miller appearance in 2004, President George W. Bush, also sent in a message honoring Miller. “We admire your outstanding service to the people of Georgia and to our country. We’re so pleased that the Miller Legacy Dinner is honoring you and helping to carry on your good work. You are a man of principle and integrity. Laura and I are deeply grateful to call you and Shirley our friends.”