John Miller, congressman, author activist, has died

He was known for his dedication to the marine industry, energy and human rights.

John Miller, then a Seattle City Council member, in 1973 (Seattle Municipal Archives)

John Miller, then a Seattle City Council member, in 1973 (Seattle Municipal Archives)

EDMONDS — It sometimes seemed John Miller didn’t want the Saturday morning town halls he conducted as a congressman to end.

At the two-hour mark, when they were supposed to wrap up, Miller would gather his staff and they’d continue meeting one-on-one with attendees, until dinner if necessary, so the Republican lawmaker could dig deeper into the details of their concerns.

“It was emblematic of the tireless way he approached constituent service,” recalled Bruce Agnew, his former chief of staff and later colleague at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

Miller, who represented the 1st Congressional District for eight years, died Oct. 4 in Corte Madera, California. He was 79.

A native of New York and graduate of Bucknell University and Yale Law School, he moved to Seattle in the mid-60s and in 1971 won a seat on the City Council.

In 1984, he was elected to Congress in the district, which at the time was made up mostly of Seattle. Following the 1990 election, the boundary lines got redrawn to put Edmonds and parts of south Snohomish County in the district. One of the first things Miller did was move his office to Edmonds, Agnew said.

In Congress, the moderate Republican worked to protect the health of Puget Sound, the vitality of the fisheries and the safety of marine vessels and their workers.

In 1988, Miller teamed with Mike Lowry, a Democrat and fellow Washington congressman, to help pass the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act, which led to tougher vessel inspection requirements and use of emergency beacon communication systems.

Miller worked on legislation aimed at managing urban growth and combating highway congestion. And he helped retool the Northwest Power Act to promote greater use of renewable energy sources.

“His whole sense of urbanism and environmental ethic is what made me want to work for him,” Agnew said. “He really made an effort to address what is now an insurmountable battle with traffic congestion.”

Miller also was imbued with a passion for protecting human rights. He challenged the continued awarding of Most Favored Nation status to China unless and until it improved its policies on human rights, Agnew said.

In 1993, after leaving office, Miller teamed with Agnew to found the Cascadia Project at Discovery Institute. Now known as the Center for Regional Development, it seeks to be a source of ideas and facilitator of conversations on how best to deal with transportation and sustainable development issues in the Pacific Northwest.

In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Miller ambassador-at-large on human trafficking, a position Miller used to boost efforts to combat modern slavery. He retired in 2006.

Miller, who continued to be a senior fellow at Discovery Institute, authored a biography of George Washington titled “The Man Who Could Be King” that was released in August.

Mark Lamb, an attorney and former Bothell mayor, said the first political campaign he ever helped out on was one of Miller’s congressional campaigns. He was a high school student at the time.

“He was an honest, thoughtful and a really classy guy,” said Lamb, who grew up in Seattle. “He had the courage of his convictions.”

Miller has one son and two grandchildren.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield @herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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