RICHMOND -- Veteran Democrat Rep. George Miller of Martinez, one of Congress' most influential and senior members, will leave behind a 40-year legacy of key water, labor, education and health care legislation, said supporters in the wake of the Miller's surprise announcement Monday that he will not seek re-election in November.
"About a year ago, my sons started saying, 'C'mon, Dad, it's been 40 years!'" Miller said during an interview at his Martinez home Sunday afternoon. "It got me thinking about what I have accomplished in partnership with my staff in the past 40 years. I can look back on our body of work and be very proud of it. It was still a hard decision. But it felt right."
The venerable 6-foot-4 inch mustachioed legislator, 68, made his decision public Monday in Richmond, the blue-collar town where he was born and the heart of the East Bay congressional district the unapologetic liberal has represented for almost four decades.
Miller's announcement triggered excitement over the prospects of a coveted open congressional seat, although his retirement will have no bearing on the balance of partisan power in the House of Representatives -- Miller's successor in the heavily Democratic district almost certainly will share his party affiliation. Longtime Miller supporter and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said Monday he will run.
"Like George, I love being in public life. To be a member of the Legislature has been a dream come true, and then to think about being a member of the U.S. Congress is even more amazing," DeSaulnier said.
Reaction from both sides of the political aisle to Miller's decision came within minutes after the news broke Monday.
House GOP Speaker John Boehner told Politico.com, "No one would confuse me and George Miller for ideological soul mates. But during our years serving together ... we got things done on behalf of the American people thanks in no small part to his dedication and willingness to work for the greater good."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, a close friend who relies heavily on Miller's counsel, said in a statement, "In the majority, as chairman of three committees, and in the minority as well, he has written some of the most creative legislation of our time -- on health care, education, child policy and labor rights, and also on the environment, energy and national parks."
Only 29 when he was elected as one of the so-called "Watergate babies" after President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, the only son of the late state Sen. George Miller Jr. achieved one of his long-held goals when he helped write and pass the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare.
He also co-authored with Republicans the No Child Left Behind Act, landmark legislation mandating better education for minority and poor children. He helped pass a 1992 federal water law that required the Central Valley Project to do more to protect fish and wildlife.
His voluminous legislative list also includes expanding the federal student loan program, hiking the minimum wage and bringing physically handicapped children into regular classrooms.
"I understand his decision and I accept it, but I don't like it," Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council CEO Greg Feere said. "I deal with people from all across the country, and as soon as I say my congressman is George Miller, they take note because he is one of the most influential members of the House."
Miller excelled at political strategy, too. As chairman of the Democratic Party Policy Committee, he helped Democrats retake the House in 2006, leading to Pelosi's historic ascension as the first female speaker of the House.
"Miller has been an incredibly smart and capable congressman over a long period of time who is without question one of the most important members from California and arguably one of the most important members in the entire House," said Ethan Rarick, director of UC-Berkeley's Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service. "His departure is national news."
Seated at his dining room table with his wife, Cynthia, nearby, Miller was genuinely awestruck at what he calls his great fortune to serve in Congress. Out of the roughly 10,000 people who have been elected to the 435-member House of Representatives, fewer than 50 have remained in office as long as Miller. He is the dean of the California congressional delegation along with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and ranks fifth on the House seniority list.
"When I look out my office window in Washington at the magnificent view of the Capitol dome, I always think, 'What is a kid from Martinez doing here?'" said Miller, his trademark deep voice catching a bit around the edges.
He has worked with seven sitting U.S. presidents -- former President George W. Bush even gave him a nickname, "Jorge Grande," or "Big George."
In a less weighty Miller factoid, his modest townhouse in Washington, D.C., where he rooms during the week with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York, loosely inspired the Amazon.com original comedy series "Alpha House," starring John Goodman.
Schumer jokingly tweeted on Monday, "Seeking roommate. 20 terms in the House & unmatched legislative record preferred. Lover of cold cereal a must."
Tenure: 1975 through present
Committees: Ranking member of House Education and Workforce Committee; past co-chairman of the House Democratic Party Steering and Policy Committee; and former chairman of the House Resources Committee
Education: Diablo Valley Community College, San Francisco State University, UC-Davis Law School
Family: Married to Cynthia, two adult sons, six grandchildren