John Miller, a former Seattle City Council member, congressman and fighter against human-trafficking, was a centrist who set a timeless example for leadership.
JOHN Miller, who died Wednesday at age 79, inhabited a political world that revolved around bipartisanship, the greater good and getting things done. In the era of Donald Trump and increased polarization, Miller’s example is instructive.
Like so many who now call Seattle home, Miller was a transplant, a New Yorker with a Yale Law degree. He worked as an assistant state attorney general and quickly fell into the reformist orbit of Choose an Effective City Council (CHECC), a bipartisan group of young iconoclasts, impatient with Seattle’s insider-ish, do-nothing city government. With CHECC’s support, Miller was elected to the Seattle City Council in 1972, joining the ranks of other CHECC-inspired leaders such as Tim Hill and Phyllis Lamphere.
On the council, Miller focused on preserving Pike Place Market and even advocated tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct to re-connect downtown to the waterfront. In 1984, Miller succeeded another moderate Republican, Joel Pritchard, as a member of Congress, serving until 1993. Of those years, Alicia Mundy wrote in a 2005 Seattle Times profile, “He was sincere, intellectual, decent. And perhaps just a bit of a milquetoast.”
A decade later, Miller was appointed to the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons as ambassador-at-large. It was here that he thrived, tackling child slavery and the horrors of international sex trafficking. Miller became a human-rights evangelist in an administration facing criticism for its own torture abuses after 9/11. But Miller felt comfortable with pushing back, aggravating friends and foes alike.
At the start of the Cold War, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote of the need for a “vital center,” that moderate, in-between space where politicians work across the aisle and tie society together.
John Miller breathed life into the vital center. Current and future Northwest lawmakers should take note.