Rep. Miller: 'We all know when it is time to move on'

David Shepardson Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Rep. Candice Miller, the only female chairwoman of the House's 21 committees, surprised the Michigan political world Thursday by saying she will not seek re-election in 2016.

The decision of the 60-year-old Harrison Township Republican means the loss of another influential Michigan lawmaker in the nation's capital. Reps. Dave Camp, R-Midland; Mike Rogers, R-Howell; John Dingell, D-Dearborn; and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, declined to seek re-election last fall.

"We all know when it is time to move on. It is just time for me to come home," she said Thursday in a Detroit News interview after more than 35 years in public office. She told House leaders of her decision earlier Thursday.

Miller, who served two terms as Michigan Secretary of State before her election to Congress, said she had considered not running in 2014.

"It's not like some magical thing happened here ... ," said Miller, who chairs the House Administration Committee that oversees members' budgets and vice chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. "It's time for me to pass the baton."

The announcement by Miller, the second most senior Republican in Michigan's delegation, led to speculation about whether senior GOP Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph might follow suit, since he is term-limited by House Republican rules from chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee past 2016.

"Fred is full steam ahead and 100 percent running for re-election in 2016," spokesman Tom Wilbur said Thursday.

Republican consultant John Truscott, who was Gov. John Engler's spokesman when Miller was secretary of state, said Miller has been a "true leader" who will be difficult to replace.

"This is a huge loss for Michigan," Truscott said. "She has dealt with some of the most difficult issues of our time — and earned the respect of people around her. Her voice in Congress will definitely be missed."

Miller's decision shocked Bill Ballenger, a former Republican state legislator and associate publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

"She is the only female in the entire Congress to chair a committee, so she already has a certain cachet as a leader," Ballenger said. "Her party is a majority and may remain in power for some time.

"She has everything going for her ..."

Miller has been popular since her election in 2002, Ballenger said.

"She is without question the most popular incumbent member of Congress in Michigan," he said. "She runs farther ahead of the base Republican strength in her district than any other member."

Miller's future plans

Miller said she doesn't plan to run for governor in the future — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is term-limited from seeking re-election in 2018 — but said she doesn't rule out any future run for elective office. Miller has passed up chances to run for governor and U.S. Senate, and said she has no regrets.

She said she is likely to find a job in the private sector, but doesn't plan to remain in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist.

"I have nothing lined up," she said of a future job, but added that she has more to contribute.

"I'm not ready to hang up my dancing shoes here I don't think yet," Miller said.

She noted the turnaround of Detroit as well as growth in Macomb County and across the state.

"It's very, very energizing," Miller said, "and maybe I have a role to play somewhere to help."

Miller, who won re-election with 69 percent of the vote in November, said her congressional experience has been an amazing ride.

"It's been an unbelievable opportunity for me, and I am so sincerely appreciative of the trust the people of the district have put in me. ... I've had a lot of fantastic opportunities to make a difference in a positive way."

She said she is proud of her work on the Great Lakes, keeping the A-10 fighter planes at Selfridge Air National Guard base and homeland security issues. She also has worked on election issues.

Miller this week sharply criticized some Republicans for holding "hostage" funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a fight with President Barack Obama over executive orders that would give work permits to millions of illegal immigrants.

She said she wasn't leaving because of frustration with divided government or factional fights in the GOP-controlled House.

She previously lost a bid to chair the Homeland Security panel.

How she got into politics

Miller was working in her family's marina on the Clinton River, selling boats, in 1979 when the Harrison Township board of trustees said it was planning to raise taxes on boats. She thought she would always be in the marina business.

"I got mad at the township board. I stormed down to the township board meeting to tell them all off; next thing I know, I am running for office," she recounted.

Miller ran for trustee in a special election. She couldn't afford a babysitter so she brought her 3-year-old daughter along in her station wagon as she campaigned door to door, launching a political career that has included being a township supervisor and Macomb County treasurer.

Term-limited as secretary of state in 2002, she ran for the 10th Congressional District after then-Rep. Dave Bonior, the House Democratic whip, decided to mount what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for governor. Legislative Republicans redrew the district to be more of a GOP stronghold — a move seen as assuring Miller a seat in Congress.

Miller said Thursday she wanted to announce her congressional retirement with plenty of time so any potential successor would have enough time to decide whether to run for the open seat.

In contrast, some Michigan delegation members last year waited to announce their decisions closer to the filing deadline.

Miller's career praised

Officials from both political parties praised Miller's career.

"I've long respected her expertise and leadership on matters pertaining to our nation's defense and her tireless efforts to protect the environment, especially the Great Lakes," Snyder said. " ... I thank her for her devoted service and wish her and her husband, Don, the best for what will be next in their lives."

Freshman Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, was equally effusive.

"She's been a great friend and the biggest supporter of the freshman class working together in a bipartisan way," first-term Congresswoman Dingell said, noting especially their work on the Great Lakes and Asian carp.

Miller reflected on what her grandmother, one of the first women to graduate from then Northern Normal, now Northern Michigan University, might think about her business and political career.

"My grandmother would be amazed at the life that I have led," she said. "I've been very blessed that I've had such a great run here."

Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.