George Miller Jr.

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George Miller Jr. (January 7, 1914 – January 1, 1969) was a Democratic California State Senator from 1948 to 1969 and a leader of the liberal wing of the California Democratic Party in the early 1950s when the Republican Party dominated State Government. Miller was the father of U.S. Representative George Miller III.

History[edit]

Miller was a native Californian, educated at St. Mary's College in Contra Costa County, where he began his political career. After his election to the legislature, Miller ran unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor in 1950[1] as running mate to losing gubernatorial candidate James Roosevelt, who, together with US Senate candidate Helen Gahagan Douglas, was deserted by the old-line state Democratic organization of San Francisco boss William M. Malone, with the acquiescence of Truman's Washington.[2] The only Democratic state candidate to win in 1950 was Attorney General Edmund G. "Pat" Brown.[citation needed]

Miller had another disappointment that year when he sought the chairmanship of the California Democratic Party. Roosevelt and Douglas at first encouraged and supported him for the position, but then "double-crossed" Miller, who was opposed by Malone, and instead chose a little-known man from the San Joaquin Valley. Miller chose not to contest the back-room decision. "If that's the way they want it", he said in his gruff voice, "to hell with it".[3]

Two years later, in 1952, Miller was one of the few California Democratic office-holders to become an early supporter of Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver's campaign for the presidency. The regular Party organization had originally supported the re-election of President Harry Truman, but when Truman withdrew from the race, the Party professionals, in desperation, coalesced around Pat Brown as their "favorite son". In the June Primary, Kefauver easily defeated the Brown slate and the winning California delegation to the 1952 Democratic National Convention, largely composed of Kefauver supporters, chose Miller as delegation chairman.[citation needed]

Kefauver later lost the Convention nomination to Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, a late entry into the race, but that fall, both the Truman professionals and the Kefauver and Stevenson amateurs at last united in selecting Miller as the new Chairman of the state Democratic Party.[citation needed]

Starting from scratch, during his two years as Party chair, hoping to reverse the series of stinging Democratic defeats, Miller used his official influence to become a founding father, in 1953, of the California Democratic Council, the unofficial grassroots "club movement" organization that helped bring the Democrats to power in Sacramento in 1958 with Pat Brown's election as Governor.[citation needed]

Miller laid the groundwork for this success. "He is an earthy, engaging man", wrote Political Science Professor Francis Carney in 1958, "whose conversation is characterized by warmth and vigor...his steadfast championing of new party organizations..secured him a reputation for vision and courage ... he has that remarkable, rare and valuable - though hardly palpable - political asset called a following. He is, in other words 'available' for higher office and the knowledge of this within the party assures him a measure of influence."[4]

Miller did not seek higher office, neither in the year of Brown's victory, nor in the subsequent ten years of his life during which he remained in the State Senate, becoming chair of the Senate Finance Committee and sometimes wary legislative collaborator of Speaker of the Assembly Jesse Unruh.[citation needed]

He worked even more closely with Governor Brown, with whom Unruh was often feuding, to insure the success of the Governor's legislative agenda. Brown's campaign manager and political strategist, Don Bradley, was an old and close friend of Miller, whom he called "the best politician I ever ran into", and they worked closely together to "engineer" the election of more liberal Democrats to the State Senate; their unsung efforts "changed the ideological complexion" of the conservative upper house, and thus "made possible the enactment of much of the Democratic legislation" of the Brown years.[5]

Death & Legacy[edit]

Miller died in office unexpectedly, two years after Governor Brown was defeated for re-election by Ronald Reagan. He was a week shy of his 55th birthday.[citation needed]

Legacy[edit]

The southbound span of the Benicia–Martinez Bridge was named in his honor.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Miller actually lost the Democratic primary to the Republican, future Governor Goodwin Knight, who "cross-filed" on the Democratic ballot.
  2. ^ Bertram Coffey, Reflections on George Miller, Jr., Governors Pat and Jerry Brown and the Democratic Party, Oral History interview, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1978
  3. ^ Roger Kent and Don Bradley, Oral Histories, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1976-79
  4. ^ Francis Carney. The Rise of the Democratic Clubs in California (Eagleton Foundation Case Studies in Practical Politics, 1958)
  5. ^ Bill Boyarsky, Big Daddy: Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics (University of California Press, 2008), p. 104
California Assembly
Preceded by
Harold Sawallisch
California State Assemblyman
10th District

1947–1949
Succeeded by
Robert Condon
California Senate
Preceded by
Truman DeLap
California State Senator
17th District

1949–1967
Succeeded by
Donald L. Grunsky
Preceded by
Paul J. Lunardi
California State Senator
7th District

1967–1969
Succeeded by
John A. Nejedly