John Miller, the GOP’s noteworthy AG hopeful
So far, the focus in the attorney general’s race has been on the Democratic side, where outsider Maura Healey and Beacon Hill favorite Warren Tolman are locked in a spirited contest. But the Republican Party also has a noteworthy candidate: Winchester lawyer John Miller.
If elected, Miller, a long-time construction attorney, would be the best-educated attorney general in memory. He holds a bachelor's in civil engineering and a master's in soil mechanics from MIT. Add to that a law degree and a master's in taxation from Boston University.
Oh, and did I mention that he went back to MIT at 40 to get a doctorate in infrastructure systems?
Wonk-a-rama, you may be thinking. But Miller is actually a funny, likable, down-to-earth guy.
Why, at 61, is he running for attorney general? To restore legal professionalism to the office, he declares.
"I just can't watch this anymore," Miller says. "I just don't think people are paying attention."
Examples? For starters, he cites the state's expensive, poorly managed, star-crossed effort to set up a new health care website. Although the Patrick administration, not the attorney general, led that effort, Miller says that an attentive AG would have been involved from the start, adding that former attorney general Frank Bellotti used to review the state's major contracts. (That's true, says Bellotti.)
"Forty hours of lawyering would have saved $200 million," he says. (A fairer figure would probably be in the $120 million range.) Further, the Patrick administration shouldn't have invoked its emergency powers to award a no-bid contract to Optum, its new vendor, Miller says.
"It wasn't an emergency," he says. "They ordered that contract without competition."
That criticism may sound harsher than he intends, notes Miller, who says that as AG, he wouldn't engage in after-the-fact fulmination but rather preventive action. "You don't swing your weight around after it's done," he says. "You try to stop it before it happens. The best lawyering is done to avoid a problem."
A second example: The Department of Public Health's bungled licensing process for medical marijuana dispensaries. A proactive AG would have gotten involved early on to help DPH develop a better, more patient-friendly process, he says.
When it comes to political philosophy, Miller is hard to pin down.
Where is he on gay marriage? "I'm certainly not opposed to gay marriage," he says.
Abortion rights? "Settled law," he says. That's often a formula politicians employ when they oppose abortion rights but don't want to activate the issue. Pressed further, however, Miller says that "people are entitled to make their own health care decisions" and that the Massachusetts Constitution protects privacy rights.
He sums up his overall perspective this way: "In so many different situations, from gun rights to abortion rights to privacy rights to free speech, why is it that the government is able to substitute its position for [someone's] own individual position?"
The constitution and the law, rather than an AG's personal position, should determine his or her stands and actions, Miller says.
Yes, but don't one's perspective and values influence how he interprets both?
"I don't mean that politics doesn't creep in," Miller replies. "But you have to be very vigilant about it not affecting" your decisions.
He himself doesn't seem like a pol pulsating with partisan passions. Take his stand on the Central American children the state may host. Miller is calling on Attorney General Martha Coakley to assume the lead role in ensuring that Massachusetts independently assesses any safety or health risk those kids could pose; that they undergo proper health screenings and vaccinations (something that's already part of the process); and that the feds legally commit to paying the various costs of hosting them.
As immigration politics go, that's more tofu in soy sauce than red meat.
Asked what attorneys general he admires, Miller offers answers that might give hard-core Republicans pause.
"I thought Frank did a good job," he says. Frank as in Bellotti, the widely admired former Democratic AG.
He also cites Elliot Richardson, the Brahmin Republican who held that post on the state and later national level.
Why? Because in October 1973, Richardson resigned rather than obeying President Richard Nixon's order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
"I admire Elliot because he told Tricky Dick to go pound sand," Miller says.