Zell Miller’s Legacy Dinner captures bipartisan spirit central to Miller Institute

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information about a board member.

By Tom Baxter and David Pendered

The honoree has been ailing lately, and wasn’t about to attend. But in an age of sharp political divisions, Zell Miller’s 85th birthday was celebrated Tuesday evening by as bipartisan a group as you’ll be likely to gather these days.

zell miller michelle nunn

Former Sen. Zell Miller supported Democrat Michelle Nunn in her 2014 campaign for Senate, saying in a TV ad that Nunn was a, ‘bridge builder, not a bridge burner.’ Miller also has endorsed Republicans, including a speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention in support of President George W. Bush. Credit: huffingtonpost.com

The Miller Legacy Dinner, which is planned as an annual event, also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the lottery-funded Hope and pre-K programs.

The HOPE scholarship and related pre-K programs are Miller’s chief legacy. He campaigned on a lottery for education during his 1990 campaign for governor. The result is viewed as a resounding success.

HOPE has provided more than $18.1 billion to Georgia students over the past 25 years. The money has enabled more than 1.7 million students to attend college on HOPE scholarships. In addition, more than 1.4-plus 4-year-olds have attended a pre-K program, according to a report on millerpublicpolicy.com.

Bryan Miller, his grandson who heads the newly formed Miller Institute, said Miller still suffers from the after-effects of a catastrophic bout with shingles a few years ago, and recently has been injured in a series of falls, but sent his regards to the gathering.

Miller said that when he approached his grandfather with the idea of establishing an institute, he gave his blessings but recalled Jefferson’s words, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” The institute seeks to find bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems.

miller chambliss

Former Sen. Zell Miller (left) developed a close working relation with former Sen. Saxby Chambliss, despite the view that Chambliss had questioned the patriotism of Sen. Max Cleland, the disabled Vietnam veteran whom Chambliss challenged in 2002. Credit: web.archive.org

The speakers who praised Miller included former bitter rivals and leaders of both parties. House Speaker David Ralston, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Ambassador Andrew Young spoke at the World Congress Center event. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Johnny Isakson, former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Begala’s partner in crime, James Carville taped messages that were aired at the dinner.

The institute’s first distinguished service award went to longtime Miller friend and ally Hank Huckaby, who retired recently as chancellor of the University System of Georgia.

Huckaby serves on the board that oversees the Miller Institute for Public Policy. Huckaby served Gov. Miller as chief of staff.

The 10-member board also includes:

  • Shirley Miller, the former senator’s spouse;
  • Dean Alford, a 10-year member of the state House, president/CEO of Allied Energy Services, and spouse of Debbie Alford, president/CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corp.;
  • Thurbert Baker, whom Gov. Miller appointed state attorney general in 1997, and who went on to win elections three times;
  • Michael Coles, the chairman of Brand Bank and founder of the Great American Cookie Co., who ran against Gingrich for Congress in 1996 and against former Sen. Paul Coverdell in 1998;
  • Charlie Harmon, Sen. Miller’s former chief of staff and advisor to ranking elected officials, including Isakson and former senators Sam Nunn and Saxby Chambliss;
  • Keith Mason, Gov. Miller’s chief of staff, a senior staffer to President Bill Clinton, former head of the Georgia Ports Authority, and founder of KWM Capital Management;
  • Bryan Miller, the grandson;
  • Pete Robinson, a 10-year member of the Georgia Legislature, including service as the Senate’s pro tem and majority leader, and chairman of Troutman Sanders Strategies;
  • Eric Tanenblatt, a principal at Denton’s whose political career includes service as chief of staff to former Gov. Sonny Perdue, top roles in two of Coverdell’s Senate campaigns, and ranking positions with the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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