Sen. Isakson Honors Life of Zell Miller
Friday, April 13th, 2018
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., honored the life of former U.S. Senator and Georgia Governor Zell Miller with remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate Monday afternoon. Miller passed away in Young Harris, Ga., on March 23, 2018, at the age of 86. A full transcript of Isakson’s remarks can be found here.
Isakson, along with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., is also planning to introduce a Senate resolution this week honoring Miller.
“I’m here to pay tribute to Zell, and his life and contributions to our country both for a purposeful reason as a fellow member [of the Senate] and a personal reason for me,” Isakson began. “He is an individual I met through politics, became one of my best friends through politics, became somebody who had more of an influence on my life than anybody I know in public service.”
Isakson and Miller’s relationship goes back decades in Georgia. Miller was lieutenant governor in the 70s and 80s while Isakson was serving in the Georgia House of Representatives. In 1990, Miller and Isakson both ran for governor of Georgia. Miller won, but the one-time political opponents later forged a positive working and personal relationship. Miller surprised many when he appointed the Republican Isakson to lead the Georgia Board of Education as chairman in 1997.
Isakson and Miller again crossed paths in the early 2000s when Isakson was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and Miller was in the U.S. Senate filling out the unexpired term of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia. When Miller announced in 2003 that he would not seek re-election, Isakson jumped in the open Senate race and won it in 2004. Miller often called Isakson one of Georgia’s best-elected officials.
“I have known a lot of people, and I’ve never known a better one than Zell Miller,” Isakson reflected. “I’ve never known anyone more true to their word, more solid who could be counted on, accepted their oath of office and every responsibility that went with it, who would say they were sorry when they needed to say they were sorry, who would fight like hell when they needed to fight like hell, and who would never take ‘no’ for an answer if they wanted you to do the right thing for the state of Georgia.”
Isakson also spoke of Miller’s beloved wife Shirley and the 64-year partnership the couple shared.
“Zell and Shirley are like Georgia’s forever ‘first family,’ not just because they were governor and first lady together… but because Shirley was a partner with Zell,” Isakson said. “Shirley and Zell worked tirelessly for the state of Georgia, and [Shirley] to this day works tirelessly for this state.”
Isakson went on to reflect on what may be Zell Miller’s most well-known achievement, the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally, or HOPE, scholarship program. The unique program established by Miller in 1992 and funded by revenue from the Georgia Lottery provides assistance toward the cost of tuition at eligible Georgia postsecondary institutions to Georgia’s high-achieving students.
“Since [the lottery’s] passage, 1.8 million Georgia children have gotten their college education [because of the HOPE scholarship]. One-point-eight million,” said Isakson.
As governor, Miller also used lottery proceeds to launch in 1993 the nation’s first ever pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) program, which became a nation model for early childhood development programs. He also worked to bring computers and technology systems such as the internet to public schools in Georgia.
“One-point-six million Georgia four-year-olds have gone to pre-Kindergarten voluntarily,”said Isakson. “Georgia’s public schools are wired; they’re on the internet. We deliver content through distance learning. It’s at the leading edge of technology in public education of any state in the country.”
He also shared Miller’s philosophy of service as a member of the U.S. Senate as a Democrat filling out the unexpired term of Coverdell, a popular Republican who had passed away unexpectedly in July 2000. Miller often voted with Republicans in the Senate and with then-President George W. Bush, whom Miller had befriended when the two served as governors of Southern states. Isakson recounted that Miller understood the significance of the Senate seat and committed to voting conservatively, as he felt Coverdell would have continued to do.
Isakson explained that Miller, “was a man of conscience and principle who recognized the importance of a United States Senate seat and recognized more the importance and wishes of the voters.”
Isakson offered his highest regards for the Georgia leader.
“Zell’s just a unique individual, and there’s never been another one like him. He was a Democrat when he was born, and he was a Democrat the day he died… Zell said what he thought and thought what he said was right, and he delivered on everything he ever said. And if he ever was wrong, he apologized,” said Isakson.
Isakson finished his remarks saying, “One of Georgia’ greatest citizens, and probably Georgia’s greatest governor, Georgia’s first family in perpetuity Zell and Shirley Miller, will be missed greatly by our state, and will be missed greatly by me.”
“But I thank God that I had the opportunity to know Zell Bryan Miller and learn from him in the best way you can, by working for him,” Isakson concluded. “God bless you, Zell, thank you for what you did for the people of Georgia. God bless you and the United States of America.”