George Miller on Congress, Education and Income Inequality

Ethan Rarick and George Miller
October 22, 2015

On Monday, October 19, 2015, IGS hosted its Fall 2015 Matsui Lecture featuring former congressman George Miller. Miller's talk was titled "Is the American Dream Still Alive? Congress, Labor and Income Inequality." During his time in Congress, Miller built a reputation as one of the strongest congressional leaders on education issues. (A recording of Miller's lecture is available on YouTube.)

At the lecture, Miller spoke to several topics including education reform, minimum wage, Occupy Wall Street and the current state of Congress itself. Miller was delightfully candid, expressing his opinions with a genuine openness and sense of humor. He revealed the effect that the insoluble Occupy Wall Street movement had within Congress. “It was like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid,” Miller conceded, “the government started asking who are these people?” To Miller, Occupy was a clear indicator that financial inequality was something very much on the mind of Americans. However, Miller also revealed his frustrations with Congress’s inability to pass any sort of innovative legislation on the matter. Miller has a history of supporting bills aimed to raise the minimum wage, but fundamentally does not believe the issue is concentrated there. “It’s a question of fairness,” Miller said, revealing his belief in tax fairness as the most effective way to reform financial inequality.

Miller also shared his views on the link between education and technology and his belief that technology is key to creating more equal educational opportunities. Miller has recently joined Cengage Learning as the Senior Education Advisor where he will continue working to reform education as an advisor on both public policy and business strategy. Miller recognizes that technology plays an important role in enhancing the learning experience of children and has the ability to raise the numbers of children who are graduating from high school and going on to pursue higher education. 

In addition to addressing the nation’s dire need for financial and educational reform, Miller touched on the limitations within Congress that result in its inability to effectively challenge both social and financial inequality. Miller expressed that Congress was intended to serve as a “reactive body” that addressed issues according to “the temperature of the nation.” However, Miller expressed his realization that perhaps “that body has a virus; the body is weakened here.” He remains unsure of where the current Congress is headed. 

Miller, a Democrat, served in the House of Representatives for 40 years, from 1975 until 2015, representing portions of California’s Solano and Contra Costa counties, which included his hometown of Richmond. During his tenure, Miller worked with seven sitting U.S. Presidents and became the fifth most senior member of the House of Representatives. In addition to labor issues, Miller was a force behind key education, environmental, and health care legislation. While in Congress, he served as Chairman on the House Committee on Natural Resources and established and chaired the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. Some of his key legislative acts include co-authoring the Republican-led No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated better education for minority and poor children, and helping to write and pass the 2010 Affordable Healthcare Act.

Miller closed the lecture with a brief Q & A, open to the audience inside Banatao Auditorium. The event was co-sponsored by the UC Labor Center, the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the Cal Berkeley Democrats.