It's Miller's time: Senator to depart

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2000

Considering a move up, Sen. Mike Miller is stepping down.

After an 18-year legislative career, the North Pole Republican has decided the 2000 session will be his last. He said he could be back in Alaska's political scene soon, although he's not yet saying which office he might seek.

``I do not plan to run for re-election,'' Miller said Thursday. ``(But) I may surface again, running for statewide office.''

He said his decision is not an indication of his belief in term limits, but he does think it's time for some new blood and new ideas. He spent a decade in the House, ending in 1992, and has been in the Senate ever since.

Miller, 48, wouldn't say exactly which statewide office he's considering. He did exclude the lieutenant governor's office, which he sought in 1994, and any office represented by a Republican. That appears to narrow the field down to governor, but Miller noted one of the three GOP members of Alaska's congressional delegation may retire.

Miller, who just became a grandfather, also cited his desire to spend more time with his family as a reason to end his career with the Legislature. Then there's also his North Pole business, Santa Claus House, which is growing. The close to 10,000-square-foot store sells gifts, toys and products with a Christmas theme.

Looking back over his tenure, Miller said he was most proud of his two years - in 1997 and 1998 - as Senate president. Then, he said, he was able to build a working relationship among senators of different political stripes.

``I think that on both sides of the political aisle, we have some good people in this state,'' he said.

Miller's family has an established place in Alaska's political history.

His father served 19 years as mayor of North Pole, near Fairbanks. His brother Terry Miller was a legislator, then lieutenant governor under Gov. Jay Hammond before cancer took his life.

Miller's Senate district includes North Pole and the surrounding communities outside of Fairbanks. The two House members serving the area within his district are GOP Reps. Jeannette James and Gene Therriault.

His political disappointments are shared by two other legislators who won't seek re-election - Sen. Al Adams, a Kotzebue Democrat, and Rep. Gary Davis, a Soldotna Republican.

One is the inability of the state to find a way to retain hunting and fishing rights over federal lands, which account for more than half of Alaska's landmass.

``When I came into office 18 years ago, the subsistence issue was just really raising its head,'' he said. ``I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to resolve this issue among Alaskans.''

He also hoped that when he left the Legislature, the state would be better prepared for the day oil revenues won't cover the bills.

His main goal for the coming session is legislation that would raise the amount of money paid to assisted-living homes in Alaska. Those homes care for mostly older Alaskans, such as those suffering from Alzheimer's disease, who need close supervision. Currently, the state pays $35 per day, which Miller said isn't enough to address the growing need.

Asked if he'd made any enduring foes at the Capitol, Miller said there just wasn't room for that in Alaska.

``This state is too small to have political enemies,'' he said.

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