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Public Statements

Tributes to Retiring Senators

Location: Washington DC

Nov. 18, 2004


Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President, I rise this morning to pay tribute to a very special friend of mine and a friend of Georgia's and a friend of the United States of America. We are in what we think are our last couple of days of the 108th session. That being the case, this will be the last few days that Senator ZELL MILLER will be in Washington in his capacity as the senior Senator from our great State of Georgia. I want to take a minute just to talk about this man who has been such an inspiration to any number of politicians and others in my State relative to his public service to our State and to our country.

ZELL MILLER was born in a little town called Young Harris, GA, which is in the mountains of north Georgia, one of the most beautiful parts of our State. His father, unfortunately, died when he was 17 days old, so he was raised by his mother, whom he has repeatedly talked about in the books he has written as well as in his speeches. His mother Birdie was the most influential person in his life. She did a heck of a job with ZELL MILLER as a young man and remained an inspiration to him throughout his adult life, and particularly in his life as a public servant to our State.

ZELL did one of the best things any man can do; and that is, he married way over his head early in his life. He married his sweetheart, Shirley. Before he went into the Marine Corps, he tells the story about leaving for boot camp and he was afraid when he got back she might not marry him, so while they were in the mood they ran over to South Carolina, which is not far away from his hometown of Young Harris, and got married; and they have had decades of glorious years together. They have two wonderful sons and four grandchildren and now four great-grandchildren whom the two of them have enjoyed. Now he will have even more of an opportunity to spend time with them and enjoy them even more.
ZELL entered the Marine Corps at an early age. Again, as he has repeatedly said in his books, as well as in his speeches, it is the best thing he ever did in his life from the standpoint of straightening him out. All of us go through difficult times in our early years, and there are specific instances that make us what we are and sort of chart the course for where we are going to be in future years. ZELL has been very open about the fact that the Marine Corps is the institution that really put his mind in the right frame that it needed to be for his adult years.

ZELL began his educational career at Young Harris College following his tenure in the Marine Corps, and then ultimately graduated from the University of Georgia, which happens to be the same institution of which I graduated. Again, having a colleague such as ZELL to look to as a fellow alumnus is a great privilege.

ZELL then began a teaching career, and also very shortly entered a public service career. He served two terms as a State senator from his home county area of Young Harris. I think that was the foundation for what was going to ultimately become an outstanding career for him in public service. Like all of us, he suffered defeat as well as victory. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives twice. Having run for Congress myself, and lost the first time, I know it is not much fun, but you also find out it is the greatest experience of your life. You meet the nicest people in the world, and you get a real sense of the fact that there are just literally thousands and thousands of people in that congressional district who have the same beliefs and philosophy that you do, so you want to continue to make a difference.

Even though ZELL lost those races when he ran twice, that did not deter him from continuing in public service. He served as our Lieutenant Governor for four terms, 16 years. He just did a masterful job. The Lieutenant Governor in Georgia has a little more power than some of the Lieutenant Governors in other States around the country. He presided over the State senate, and in that capacity had the obligation and the power to appoint committee chairmen and to be involved in legislation from a direct standpoint. He did an outstanding job as Lieutenant Governor.

Following those four terms, he ran for Governor and, in 1990, was elected Governor of our State for the first of his two terms. In 1990, he campaigned on the fact that if we were going to have a State lottery-that was one of the hot issues on the ballot that year-that if we were going to have a State lottery, he wanted to make sure the funds that were generated by that lottery were used for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that was to improve the quality of education in our State.

I have to say if there is any one man who is responsible for the improvement of the quality of education in my State of Georgia, it is ZELL MILLER because he not only campaigned on doing that, he made absolutely certain all the funds generated from that State lottery went to improve the quality of education.

He is the father of the HOPE Scholarship. It is kind of interesting, in every campaign now, every statehouse campaign and gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial race now, those folks who have been involved in State politics for a while who are running for those races all claim responsibility for the HOPE Scholarship. But everybody knows that the father of the HOPE Scholarship, the person who was responsible for its passage and implementation, is ZELL MILLER.

The HOPE Scholarship is a provision in our law which says, if you graduate from a high school in Georgia and you have a B average, you can go to any State institution that you are successful in applying to and getting into, and your tuition will be paid for. As long as you maintain a B average, that tuition will be paid for throughout your college career. It has been one of the best things we have ever had happen in our State.

We have been successful keeping our top students at home and attending our State universities. One of the main reasons is the HOPE Scholarship. We have kids who might otherwise go to a school in the Northeast or the West Coast that has a much greater national reputation, but they do not give the scholarships like the HOPE Scholarship to all their students who maintain those averages.

So ZELL MILLER has been primarily responsible for keeping an awful lot of the top kids graduating from our public institutions as well as our private institutions in Georgia at our State institutions. As a result of that, we have seen the average SAT scores at the University of Georgia, for example, rise every single year since the HOPE Scholarship went into effect. I do not know what the exact number is for the entering class this year, but I have confidence in saying the average SAT score for the entering freshmen class at the University of Georgia this year is well in excess of 1250, probably closer to something in excess of 1300. At Georgia Tech it is higher than that. And in other institutions we have seen the same impact. We are simply getting the brightest and the best because of ZELL MILLER and his commitment to the people of Georgia and his commitment to increasing the quality of education in our State.

As Governor, he put into effect a voluntary pre-K program for 4-year-old kids. All of us know that the earlier we involve our children in the education process, the more likely they are to come out, at the end of the day, with a better education. It is one of the best things we ever did from the standpoint of putting our kids in touch with the school system at an early age. And it has worked.

I could go on and on talking about the things that Senator Miller did as Governor, but I want to sum it up with two anecdotes.

First, again, education-wise, he was committed to ensuring that the education of the children of our State improved every year he was in public service. I will never forget his last 4 years-and I know this; I remember specifically because my wife was a teacher in the public school system at that point in time. We were ranked 49th out of 50 with respect to the average teacher salaries. ZELL MILLER put into place-and he made a commitment to the teaching community and made a commitment to the legislature that they were going to have to abide by this. He was going to provide a 6-percent increase in teacher salaries every year for his last 4 years, about a 25-percent increase for teacher salaries across the board. He not only made the commitment, but he did it. We went from 49th in average teacher salaries to somewhere in the high twenties over the 4 years of ZELL MILLER's last tenure as Governor of our State.

He also made a commitment to the people of Georgia that if you elect me for 4 more years, then I am not going to be just your average Governor and put it on cruise control and go out as a popular guy-and he had every opportunity to do that.

I will never forget riding back up here on an airplane after one weekend, and I happened to sit beside ZELL. This was several years after he had left the Governor's office, but I was a Member of the House. I said: ZELL, I guess if there is anything about you, and I were to remember one thing over everything else, it is the fact that in your last 4 years you did what you thought was right, irrespective of the fact that you could allow the legislature to pass whatever they wanted to and you could sign it into law. A lot of the legislation were very popular bills with the people back home, but they simply were not the right thing to do. He would veto them. He would veto them, not because he had anything against the issue or the people promoting the bill, but it was the right thing to do. It was not in the best interest of all Georgians.

A lot of people ask me today, Why has ZELL MILLER changed? ZELL MILLER has never changed. In his heart, he believes we live in the greatest country in the world. He believes in his heart that he and I live in the greatest State in this great country. He is totally committed to doing what he thinks is right. He did it then when he vetoed a lot of popular bills, and he didn't have to do that; it would have been easy not to do that. That is why today when he speaks it is from his heart because he is doing what he thinks is right.

As he closes out his career, he and I are both mindful every day of the fact that ZELL MILLER didn't want to be here. It was not his wish that he serve in the Senate when he was asked to serve. He ran for the Senate in 1980 and was not successful. But he had no intention of coming back to the Senate. Unfortunately, Paul Coverdell, who was his very close friend and one of my political mentors, passed away in 2000, and our Democratic Governor, Roy Barnes, went to ZELL MILLER and said: Your State needs you, your country needs you, and I need you to fill the unexpired term of Paul Coverdell. So ZELL, after much thought about it, decided to leave the mountains of north Georgia and his hometown of Young Harris and go back into public service, to come to Washington. He and Shirley have been here since July of 2000, when he was appointed to fill that unexpired term. He ran in 2000 and was elected to the remainder of the unexpired term. So it wasn't his desire to come back, but, as always, when he has been called upon to fill a void and to be a public servant for his State and his country, he has answered that call-not unlike when he joined the Marine Corps.

As he leaves this great institution at the end of this term in another 6 or 8 weeks, this man is going to be missed by those who have looked up to him from a political perspective. He has been a person that all of us in politics admire because he has always operated in a bipartisan way and made sure he reached across the aisle and brought Republicans into his Democratic administration when he served as governor. Probably one of the highlights of that is the man who is replacing him in the Senate, my good friend JOHNNY ISAKSON, who has been a longtime Republican in our State.

In ZELL's second term as governor, he knew that with education being a priority he needed a top-flight person to head up our State board of education. He reached out to JOHNNY ISAKSON, who was then out of politics, and brought him into his administration to chair the State board of education. JOHNNY did a terrific job. As a result of that, he came on to the House to replace Newt Gingrich, and now he will be replacing ZELL MILLER in the Senate. That is simply the kind of guy ZELL MILLER is.

So it wasn't politics; it was what was in the best interest of our State, what could he do to continue to improve the quality of the education of our kids. He just did the right thing. It is the same as he did in supporting our Republican President. He knew it was the right thing to do. That is why he was so vocal about it. Irrespective of the consequences politically, he did what in his heart he thought was the right thing to do.

So now as ZELL goes back to Young Harris, I fully expect him to stay engaged in the process. He is not the kind of guy who is going to wilt away, but he will not be as active as he has been for the last three decades. He will be sitting on his front porch with his two dogs, Gus and Woodrow, playing with his grandchildren, and enjoying his family. I am sure his mind will, at times, wander back to his times in Atlanta at the State capital, and to the days he spent in this institution, and he will have some great memories. But those of us who have had the privilege and the opportunity to serve with him are going to have even better memories.

ZELL MILLER is a great American, a great Georgian, and he is somebody all of us are going to miss in the day-to-day world of politics. But he is somebody who, when we look back and say, you know, if I charted my course the way he did, I can leave this institution with a great feeling knowing that I have done what was in the best interest of my State and in the best interest of my country. So to ZELL MILLER and to Shirley, I say thank you. Julianne and I have a great appreciation for you and a great friendship with you. We look forward to continuing that friendship. We will miss you here in the U.S. Senate. God bless you.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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