Rep. George Miller's retirement after 40 years in Congress will mark the end of an era in Contra Costa politics, leaving a profound loss not only for his East Bay constituents but for the nation.
Few modern-day members of Congress have been as influential and only four currently in the House have served longer. A mix of fiery orator, statesman and political realist, Miller has been a driving force behind the Democrats' political and policy strategy for decades.
He helped engineer Rep. Nancy Pelosi's 2007 election as the first woman speaker of the House and Barbara Boxer's 1992 ascendancy from the House to the Senate. He co-authored 1992 landmark water legislation during the tenure of President George H.W. Bush and negotiated "No Child Left Behind" with President George W. Bush in 2001.
He considers his work on the Affordable Care Act his greatest accomplishment, he said Monday. He first ran for office with two goals, ending the war in Vietnam, which came in 1975, and national health insurance, signed into law 35 years later. "When that passed, I really felt like 'mission accomplished.' "
But, in fact, Miller's not finished. For starters, he has 11 months left in office -- time he says he will make exciting. On one hand he says he's had a "good run"; on the other he ticks off a long list of unfinished policy goals, noting that he was still writing legislation last weekend and plans to keep involved after his retirement.
A staunch liberal who nevertheless as early as the 1980s espoused fiscal controls, a defender of labor who insisted on accountability for teachers, Miller has always had passion not only for his job but for the people he represents.
That's what makes his retirement announcement so surprising. Since age 29, when he was elected in 1974 with the class of Watergate-era freshmen, the California state senator's son has lived and breathed Washington politics.
With amazing stamina, he has kept homes in the capital and in Martinez, traveling between the two almost every week. It's not only his tenacity that makes him a standout, it's his intellect.
The combination of the two will be difficult for any successor to match. Some have speculated what would happen when he finally called it quits. But few thought Miller would make the decision so soon.
For, at 68, he's still relatively young by Washington standards. There again, he has served four decades and deserves a chance to experience the life he has worked so hard to help others attain.