The Zell Miller Institute aims to be a new player in Georgia politics

Former Gov. Zell Miller and his wife Shirley Miller. Curtis Compton,ccompton@ajc.com

Former Gov. Zell Miller and his wife Shirley Miller. Curtis Compton,ccompton@ajc.com

A bipartisan group of Georgia powerbrokers launched a new initiative Wednesday in former Gov. Zell Miller’s honor that will promote bipartisan solutions and consensus in a changing political climate – and support candidates who back his ideals.

The Zell Miller Institute for Public Policy aims to be an influential player in Georgia politics with three distinct divisions. The institute will focus on bipartisan policies. A foundation arm will promote Miller’s legacy and encourage young people to pursue public service. And an action fund will raise money for candidates seeking election.

Institute chairman Bryan Miller, a grandson of the 84-year-old ex-Georgia governor, said his goal is to provide a “blueprint for policies that will give us a competitive edge in the decades to come.”

It’s no coincidence, he added, that the institute is launched on the 25th anniversary of the HOPE and pre-Kindergarten programs his grandfather championed.

“That milestone gives us a great segue into the efforts to find the next big idea that positively transforms the lives of Georgians,” he said in a statement.

Zell Miller served in a mind-boggling range of elected offices in Georgia, from mayor to state senator to lieutenant governor before defeating Johnny Isakson to win the governor’s office in 1990.

The Democrat staked his campaign on a promise to establish a state lottery to fund higher education and pre-kindergarten programs – pioneering the popular HOPE scholarship – and tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia state flag.

His successor, Roy Barnes, tapped him to serve as U.S. Senator in 2000 after Republican Paul Coverdell’s death, and Miller showcased his maverick streak in Washington. He was an ardent ally of George W. Bush – he co-sponsored his tax cut plan – and famously delivered a keynote speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

His wife, Shirley Miller, said her husband “dedicated his life to serving the people of Georgia” and that the institute will make sure his work continues.

“Zell and I believe the Miller Institute can carry on that kind of work that changes lives for the better, we’re honored that many who helped make his time in office a great success have stepped forward once again to volunteer their time for this endeavor,” she said.

The institute’s board members include a constellation of influential Georgians from both sides of the aisle.

Among them: Former Attorney General Thurbert Baker; Charlie Harman, an ex-chief of staff for Miller and Sens. Sam Nunn and Saxby Chambliss; Keith Mason, another former top aide to Miller; Allied Energy Services chief executive Dean Alford; Pete Robinson, the uber-connected Troutman Sanders lobbyist; and Eric Tanenblatt, a Dentons partner who was once Sonny Perdue’s top deputy.

The institute will also host the Miller Legacy Dinner each year to bestow an award for distinguished public service. The first event will take place on Feb. 28 and honor Hank Huckaby – a former student and protégé of Miller – who recently retired as head of Georgia’s higher education system.

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