A rare word from Zell Miller: ‘I had a late life conversion’

Buford, Ga. – There was no mistaking the man who walked through the glass doors of the hotel complex on the shores of Lake Lanier.

The trademark shock of white hair remains neatly groomed. The hawk-like nose still juts out over a tight jaw. The eyes are clear and bright. But the stride is gone. Zell Miller walks gingerly now, always with a cane.

The former governor and U.S. senator describes himself as an 80-year-old man with 100-year-old legs. “I very, very seldom go anywhere,” Miller said in an interview.

Former governor and U.S. senator Zell Miller autographs copies of his 2005 book "A Deficit of Decency" at a Buford fundraiser for 9th District congressional candidate Doug Collins on Friday/SPECIAL

Former governor and U.S. senator Zell Miller autographs copies of his 2005 book "A Deficit of Decency" at a Buford fundraiser for 9th District congressional candidate Doug Collins on Friday/SPECIAL

In fact, Miller’s appearance on Friday was a rare return to a world he once commanded. He’d come down from the hills of Young Harris as the featured attraction at a fundraiser for state Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, now a Republican candidate in the 9th District congressional race.

His grandson, Bryan Miller, is Collins’ campaign manager. “Of course, he brought his grandfather with him, but I would have been there anyway,” the former governor said. “My grandmother was a Collins out of Union County. And I was impressed by what a good legislator [Doug Collins] made. “I felt I had a mountain relationship with him.”

Miller’s abrupt disappearance from the scene has been one of the greatest vanishing acts in Georgia political history. At the tail end of his U.S. Senate years, still in the shadows of 9/11, Miller broke lifelong ties with many of his Democratic friends and endorsed the re-election of President George W. Bush.

Miller, who had given the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1992, played the same role for Republicans in 2004 – damning Democrat John Kerry for his alleged plans to fight world terrorism with “spitballs.”

The last glimpse that most Georgians had of Miller was his vein-popping, post-speech interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “I wished we lived in the day when you could challenge a person to a duel,” Miller snapped that day.

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The combative Miller left Washington without regret only a few months later. Since then, he’s made a few brief appearances here and there. A handful of candidates like Collins, mostly Republicans, have captured his still highly valued endorsement. Miller recently lent his name to Newt Gingrich’s presidential run.

But the interviews and public speeches became part of a life left behind.

“I don’t hear from anybody much,” Miller said. “I stay away from the limelight and politics and all that.”

One reason has been his health. “About three years ago, I got shingles. I broke out from my toes – big blisters all the way up to my hip. And it left me somewhat disabled, and I had two big falls. I fell down a flight of 13 stairs, all the way down them. Broke five ribs, two of them very badly, collapsed a lung, and pushed my heart over to the middle of my body more,” the former governor said.

“That really crippled me up. And then about two months later, I fell again and broke my back. And so I have really been stove up, as we say in the mountains.”

Until now, he has kept his constant pain a private matter. He’s had a small electronic device implanted in his back. “When the pain gets so bad I just can’t stand it, I’ve got a little remote – like a TV remote. I can mash that, and it kind of blurs the pain some,” he said.

The former governor credits his wife Shirley for keeping him on track.

He reads the Journal-Constitution every day, delivered via his Kindle. He keeps a sharper eye on Atlanta than Washington. “I love state government. I pay close attention to how Nathan [Deal] is doing. And I’m thinking he’s making an excellent governor. I knew he would,” he said.

Miller, who served as governor when a Democratic City Hall and a Democratic state Capitol operated in utterly separate worlds, is fascinated by the working relationship between Deal, a Republican, and Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat.

As governor, Miller’s greatest achievement was the creation of a state lottery and the HOPE scholarship that it funds. But he has no problem with the Republican Legislature’s recent decision to “de-couple” HOPE scholarship payments from college tuition rates. No longer does one fully cover the other.

“I don’t think they had any other choice. We knew back in the ‘90s that there would be adjustments. This came as no surprise,” Miller said. Nor did he blink at the decision by state lottery officials to approve the sale of tickets through the Internet.

“I’m okay with that. In fact, we wrote the lottery law so you could do that,” he said. But as for that plan to create a casino with machines operated by the Georgia Lottery Corporation, Miller said he’ll let others decide that.

It is tempting to write that Miller, one of the most confrontational politicians ever to haunt the Capitol, has mellowed. And it is true that Miller is interested in rebuilding some of those bridges that have been burned over the years.

But it would be more accurate to say that Miller has turned inward. At times, he is his own harshest critic. Take that 2004 televised confrontation with Matthews.

“That was terrible. I embarrassed myself. I’d rather it had not happened,” Miller said. “But Chris Matthews is not one of my favorite people.”

For those who have tracked Miller’s career, one of the greatest unanswered questions has been the source of his last rightward turn. What sparked not only his admiration for President Bush, but turned him into a strict opponent of abortion and a harsh critic of this nation’s social mores?

Religion, Miller said. “I had a conversion. I had a late life conversion. I changed my views on several things. This had to do with my son going blind, and me having to carry him to the doctor with his hand on my shoulder,” Miller said. This was in the early 2000s. His son, Matt, had been a lifelong diabetic.

“I prayed and prayed that they could do something about his sight,” Miller said. The prayers seemed to work. “He can see pretty good out of one eye right now.”

But a bargain struck with God often transforms the petitioner more than the object of any plea. “I changed on a lot of things. Not just abortion, but my whole life in general. I was a pretty rough character in my younger days. I needed to change,” Miller said.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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181 comments Add your comment

ByteMe

July 21st, 2012
11:10 am

Nice, Jim. Sounds like you had a good conversation with him.

jconservative

July 21st, 2012
11:19 am

Very good column.

I met Zell back in the mid 1960’s and thought he was one of the more liberal people I had every met.

marsh

July 21st, 2012
11:21 am

That ole timey religion sure is bile.

Todd

July 21st, 2012
11:22 am

Zell had a dang sharp knife and wounded many people needlessly. Glad he has changed.

GaBlue

July 21st, 2012
11:24 am

Well, bless his lil’ ol’ heart.

Bobby

July 21st, 2012
11:27 am

But Zell Miller OPPOSED the Hope Scholarship and the Georgia lottery the day before it was voted on as the tied had turned and he thought it would fail. He flip flops as much as any politician and takes credit for things he does not deserve. Too bad he has become a mean spirited bigot in his old age.

George Corley Wallace

July 21st, 2012
11:30 am

Sounds sorta like me

Bobby

July 21st, 2012
11:30 am

And if Zell actually read his Bible he would have found God does not favor conservatives over any other group. Like a lot of people who don’t read the Bible in its entirety he has fallen victim to misinterpretation. No doubt he would support segregation and slavery today if he was Governor based on his misapplication of Holy Scripture.

steverino

July 21st, 2012
11:33 am

Quite simply, “Zig Zag Zell” finally found the proper direction to ‘zig’ to, and he stayed there.

Mike In Dunwoody

July 21st, 2012
11:33 am

Faith certainly has its place but Governor Miller’s complete 180 was astonishing, stunning–and quite appalling. The man had made pursuing policies of fairness and equality his life’s work and then all of a sudden he hitches his trailer to the machine that stole a national election?

Politically, there was nothing to gain for Miller by switching coats, which made his abrupt Democratic departure all the more bizarre.

The governor certainly deserves respect but I think he soiled what should have been a tremendous legacy by needlessly aligning himself with people who never understood the meaning of democracy.

Bonannie

July 21st, 2012
11:35 am

Zell Miller was a Great Governor and politician. Thanks for catching us up with the man behind HOPE and the lottery. Miller used admirable foresight in working toward long term goals and was what Georgia needed at the time. We’ve gone forward considerably as a state because of his actions. Reckon I’ll say some prayers for Zell living at peace and comfortably for the rest of his days.

born with a tan

July 21st, 2012
11:38 am

Not So Quick, Steverino

July 21st, 2012
11:39 am

That’s Zell, alright. Still ziggin’ and a-zaggin’! Norman Underwood gave him the most apt nickname in Georgia politics since Gene Talmadge was tagged as “The Wild Man from Sugar Creek.”

Bill Clements

July 21st, 2012
11:39 am

Governor Zell Miller did wonders for neighborhood schools and Georgia Scholars – no one has come close to his achievements for schools and students in Georgia ! I applaud him for his leadership and vision.

Garvin

July 21st, 2012
11:39 am

Another man faces death and finds his path in life wanting.

Uncle Herman

July 21st, 2012
11:42 am

God is Love, He doesn’t love ugly. So it took you eighty years to figure that out?

Look before I leap...

July 21st, 2012
11:48 am

What little respect I had for Miller after he endorsed the meatball from Crawford, evaporated completely when he endorsed Nathan Deal.

Miller credits God for giving his son some of his sight back, yet God’s response to Miller’s new found faith was to give him shingles and throw him down a flight of steps.

liblab

July 21st, 2012
11:50 am

I wish no man ill, but Zell Miller was a horse’s patoot, and the evil that men do lives after them.

Doug

July 21st, 2012
11:52 am

He was Lester Maddox’s top aide for goodness sake. He has not changed. He only masqueraded as a moderate to get elected. He is now and has always been a man without a center.

Randy

July 21st, 2012
12:02 pm

I’d like to meet Zell Miller so that I could thank him for helping me put my kids through college!!!! No other politician has done anything so tangible to help my family.

Karma to you, Zell

July 21st, 2012
12:03 pm

Karma is one heck of a buuga-bear…Zell was a mean spirited B-tard in his final years in political office. Chickens now come home to roost…blind son, what the bling does that have to do with a conversion, Zell? If anything you should have realized the error of your ways. And now, even with the shingles, broken back, etc. you still supporting people who hang on to religion, yet have very un-christian like ways.

Hillarious

July 21st, 2012
12:06 pm

I like him now.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

July 21st, 2012
12:10 pm

The sins of the fathers are visited on the sons to the third and fourth generation.

The curse causeless shall not come.

Miller gave the Lottery, openly run by Organized Crime out of Mob-ruled Rhode Island, whose “fronts” have openly “skimmed” hundreds of millions of dollars in the Big Game more than a half-dozen times, and George W. Bush committed 9/11, a homosexual, draft-dodging psychopath whose father assassinated John and Martin to send us to die as papal catspaw in Vietnam; whose grandfather was Hitler’s banker; and whose family has fronted the Vatican banker Rockefellers since they built what is now Roman Catholic “Big Oil” on murder and arson in 1870’s Cleveland, Ohio.

“Great” legacy, Zell. You got the shingles for good reason. Payback is tough, isn’t it?

liblab

July 21st, 2012
12:13 pm

There is no crime with a man dressing up as goat and living free within a wild herd. It’s not evil. I think goats and men should be able to marry if they want to.

Hilton

July 21st, 2012
12:15 pm

I liked him at first, then he obviously fell for all those harmful, hateful, and uncaring republican policies
He learned NOTHING from the bible.
Lost all respect for him.

The Swan Song

July 21st, 2012
12:16 pm

Zig Zag Zell,
Unfortunately it is true……….
What you do to others, will come back to you too someday-

Trevor

July 21st, 2012
12:19 pm

Love how republicans claim christianity for their stance on MOST issues. It is not christianity that republicans cherish, but modern American christianity. True christianity, the one espoused by Jesus, caring for the less fortunate, exhibiting charity to all types of people, honoring God over worldly matters, are more expressed by liberal values than modern conservatives hold. Poor Zell obviously likes the beliefs that can be summarized and handed to him, instead of actually learning something for himself.

Dirty Dawg

July 21st, 2012
12:21 pm

Memories of Zelll…being proud to hear him say that ‘Any time is the right time to do the right thing.’ (To a group at the Georgia World Congress Center in response to a challenge of why he tried – even though he failed – to get the Confederate battle flag off the State flag.)…being ashamed that he had ‘converted’ to a right-wing, hate-filled, approach to politics and life…and laughing at him scurrying out the back door of a ‘party’ with his long-time, female (er) assistant, upon the news that his ‘long-time’ wife was walking in the front. Damn you Zell…you coulda been somebody..instead you became a recluseful bum.

RTD

July 21st, 2012
12:23 pm

I wish Sen. Miller well. He is a good man and a fine public servant. It is also quite enjoyable to watch a “journalist” like Chris Matthews get called out for his unprofessional conduct and one sided views.

zeke

July 21st, 2012
12:25 pm

my last physical the doctor advised i get the shingles shot and i did…..you older folks need to consider it

This is Mrs. Norman Maine

July 21st, 2012
12:25 pm

He acted like a horse’s butt during his Chris Matthews interview and then justifies it at the end as Chris not being one of his favorite people. yeah, that’s some conversion he had there.

Thank God, he’s through embarassing Georgia on the national stage.

Patriot

July 21st, 2012
12:26 pm

Bobby,

You’re an idiot.

Patriot

TheBigCat

July 21st, 2012
12:31 pm

Bobby: Where does the Bible support slavery or segregation? Just curious you narrow minded liberal.

hiram

July 21st, 2012
12:32 pm

Zell’s building of the four lane from Atlanta destroyed the North Georgia Mountains, ecologically and culturally. The mountain terminology he references has been lost in the sea of malcontented,rude and demanding halfbacks who now dominate the inhabitants. But, it’s pretty much what you can expect in “Union” County.

Ken Stallings

July 21st, 2012
12:37 pm

Zell Miller didn’t change. The Democratic party on the national stage is what changed around him. Miller is a man who fundamentally believes in the rights of the individual, which means he champions liberty. Today the DNC and the liberals running the DNC ship, no longer place their faith in liberty to raise society. Instead, through a combination of impatience and outright arrogance, liberals today believe in naked federal government power to coerce and shape the change they demand, and are clearly as a small group quite willing to force upon others against their expressed will.

So much for liberty!

So much for individual self-determination!

Sometimes, you will even hear a liberal openly ridicule such values and philosophies! They will spew venom upon the concepts as being nothing more than a smokescreen which supposed tyrants use to subjugate the so-called masses. But these liberals utter a pied piper’s screed. They preach a gospel of sainthood that is founded upon a bedrock of userption of liberty.

Miller saw through all of this and it offended him as it does myself. He said it most clear that he did not leave the Democratic party but that the Democratic party left him, and in the process, left a whole vast segment of American society.

In this 2012 national election, America stands on the precipace of a crossroads. One path returns us to the cherished founding values of this nation (freedom and liberty), which while incomplete when the Founding Fathers first drafted it on paper, was eventually achieved through vast bloodshed and sacrifice. The other path places America on the path of abandoning liberty with a social contract where citizens sign away their liberties in return for some fuzzy promise of government entitlement and patronage.

It is clear the second path is a path to ruin and national bankruptcy. But, that is merely one lesser part of the outcome. Fewer people fully appreciate the starker and more sinister outcome. Liberty is more important that prosperity, and the two are in fact distinct concepts. One should never trade liberty for prosperity, and one hopes most Americans still see it that way today and vote Obama and his socialist cronies out of government.

Patrick Henry famously said, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Tragically, after receiving the blessings of liberty for hundreds of years, too many Americans today are quite willing to replace this sacred mantra with another newer one: “Trade my liberty, and give me patronage!” Perhaps the most evil of justifications is some presumption of entitlement to what others have earned — that somehow their success was achieved corruptly and therefore society has a duty to take from it and give to others. When the transfer happens voluntarily it is given a saintly label of charity. When it is done with coercion, it is theft. When it is done with coercion orchestrated by government, it is given the most evil of labels: tyranny!

If we are able to restore America to the path of freedom and liberty, our next social challenge is to ween the existing patronage class off government patronage and get them firmly back upon the path of liberty and self-determination. It will not only preserve our republic, but just as importantly give so many more Americans an honest chance at real and lasting success.

Un Educated

July 21st, 2012
12:38 pm

He cut driver’s ed requirements claiming he’s beef up math and science. He did neither, and then supported the GOP attacks on ‘government schools’ and teachers. After the teen driver death rate became such an obvious problem, Georgia then added some laws for the little speed demons–keeping the car from being full.

And HOPE–well, it became an effective tool to fund rich kids with means being able to have a new car when they go to UGA. Class warfare, as rural schools don’t have the AP classes that the rich schools do. Way to fake us out, Zig Zag.

Oh, and how many great jobs has the four lane to home, Georgia Highway 515, aka the Appalachian Development Highway brought? Walmarts with Chinese crap?

hiram

July 21st, 2012
12:41 pm

@bobby
Zell is from a Georgia county(Union), that supported Lincoln’s views during the Civil War. They carried on guerilla warfare against the CSA.

Winston

July 21st, 2012
12:43 pm

TheBigCat , July 21st, 2012, 12:31 pm said:

“Bobby: Where does the Bible support slavery or segregation? Just curious you narrow minded liberal.”

Don’t know your Bible too well, do you Cat?

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

just sayin'

July 21st, 2012
12:53 pm

Hey, “born with a tan,” what is Zell “trading?” Impressive intelligence you have.

Devildog

July 21st, 2012
12:53 pm

Semper Fi, Zell. From one old Marine to another. Wish you could be our governor again.

Robert

July 21st, 2012
1:03 pm

Mike in Dunwoody, it is the Democratic Party, that believes that voters don’t need ID’s, that tries to steal elections.

Get real.

Hopper

July 21st, 2012
1:03 pm

I regret his illnesses and health issues but deplore his conversion politics. Hope he feels better, but hope his way of thinking becomes more open-minded and accepting.

Truth Squad

July 21st, 2012
1:04 pm

When I was a kid I remember watching Miller debate that Matt guy. I do not remember his exact words, but he destroyed modern Republican economic philosophy completely using simple down-home language. I think every modern politician should be given the tape of that debate (or a transcript if one exists).

I will always believe that his anger at the Democratic Party stems from not being Al Gore’s VP pick. He carried a lot of water for Clinton/Gore campaign and expected to be rewarded. The sad truth is that Miller would have been a better choice than Lieberman, or Gore, if we’re being honest. This is why he refuses to officially switch to the Republican Party.

Down deep, he is still the same guy. That he doesn’t want to leave this earth a Republican or Independent should tell folks something. He’s just riding the current Republican wave in the state. When Georgia reverts back to it’s dark purple roots, he’ll zig on home again. Just you watch.Zell don’t ever to be associated with the losing side.

Penny

July 21st, 2012
1:06 pm

I had a late life conversion into being a huge Zell Miller fan. He is a true statesman and patriot. I’m just so sorry we couldn’t have had him in Washington for longer….and I’m really sorry about his health struggles. He is one of the “greats” in my book. Wish him the very best!

True Grit

July 21st, 2012
1:06 pm

You’re right, Patriot. Bobby is a total idiot. Trevor, too. But Dirty Dawg, you fall into the imbecile category. Please don’t use the word ‘dawg’ in your title. You obviously didn’t attend college, much less a university as great as UGA. Is that all the liberal side can throw out at a conservative or Christian…’You’re a hater?’ You’ve learned well the politics of division. If you would take the time to do some research and learning, instead of regurgitating your old, tired liberal talking points, you would realize conservatives give more, care more, and work harder than any of the entitlement mentality purveyors you support. Zell Miller believed in an America of personal responsibility and accountability. 99% of you who are showing hatred for Zell Miller are doing so out of ignorance. Your comments tell me one thing. You never knew Zell Miller. I do and I know he is one of the finest and most honest citizens our state has ever produced.

liblab

July 21st, 2012
1:07 pm

Bobby…
The Bible has long been used to justify slavery. In fact, the Southern Baptist Church was founded on the Biblical belief in slavery:
”in 1844, the national Baptist General Convention for Foreign Missions refused to license slaveowning missionaries. One year later, that refusal led to the split between the northern and southern Baptists. The southern Baptists were absolutely convinced that the Bible taught that God had divinely sanctioned slavery. As early as 1823, Richard Furman, a leader of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, a slaveholder, and for whom Furman University is named, stated in a famous address to the Governor of South Carolina, “The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” [See Exposition of The Views of the Baptists, Relative To The Coloured Population In The United States]. The next year, in 1845, those firmly convicted defenders of slavery formed their own separate Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Check Leviticus 25:44 which says that it’s OK to have slaves, as long as you import them. And Timothy 6:1, which says that slaves should respect their masters. (Yes, massa. No, massa.) I’m sure there are other verses but those seem pretty obvious.
I remember being taught when I was growing up that Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross on the way to Calvary, was black; and if having black people tote and carry was good enough for Jesus, it was OK for everyone. Seriously.

dre

July 21st, 2012
1:07 pm

great article about one of the best leaders in the country to never become president. Unfortunately, he thinks Nathan Deal is doing a good job. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.

Penny

July 21st, 2012
1:13 pm

Chris Matthews is the most disgusting person alive. No need for Senator Miller to regret his response. The guy is HORRIBLE>

Refugee

July 21st, 2012
1:14 pm

Remind me again why I am so happy to be a refugee from Jawja and the South.

LOL

JON

July 21st, 2012
1:15 pm

Poor Zell… Heard he hit his head real bad; you can tell by his remarks about what a great job that crook Nathan Dealer is doing.