Ex-Ga. Governor Headed to Senate

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) — After nearly 40 years in politics, Zell Miller said his 18 months in retirement were the finest of his life. When the former Georgia governor and Marine was asked to do his duty again, he had a simple response: ``Yes sir!''

Gov. Roy Barnes introduced his fellow Democrat as Georgia's newest senator Monday. Miller was appointed to replace Republican Paul Coverdell, who died last week of a stroke.

Miller, 68, said he will run in a special election in November for the four years remaining in Coverdell's term. His appointment increases the number of Democrats in the Senate to 46. There are 54 Republicans.

``When I left the governor's office ... the fires of political ambition that had burned so long and so strong within me had finally cooled,'' Miller said. But he couldn't say no when Barnes appealed to his sense of duty.

Miller was elected lieutenant governor in 1974 and served for 16 years. He was elected governor in 1990 — beating Andrew Young and Barnes, among others, in the Democratic primary.

Miller left office as one of the most popular governors in Georgia history. His approval rating soared above 85 percent, thanks mostly to his lottery-funded program that gave college scholarships to any high school students with a ``B'' average or better.

Barnes called Miller the most qualified person for the Senate job.

``The one who didn't want it was the one who had to take it,'' he said. ``It used to take seniority to get things done in the United States Senate. Now it takes stature.''

Republicans, anxious to reclaim the seat in November, said Miller could be beaten despite his popularity and highly regarded record as governor. State GOP chairman Chuck Clay suggested Miller may belong more to the past than to Georgia's future.

``Georgia is a new state with hundreds of thousands of new voters, mostly in Republican strongholds,'' he said. ``I think most Georgians are going to want a Republican voice in a Republican-controlled Senate.''

Miller campaigned for Clinton in 1992 and pushed up the Georgia presidential primary that year to help his fellow Democratic governor.

Miller said he doubts that will be a factor in the race.

``I have supported President Clinton when I thought he was right and opposed him when I thought he was wrong,'' he said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Barnes missed an opportunity to make history by appointing a black. Several key black Democrats, including state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, had been mentioned as contenders.

``It's the safe way out, looking back, but it's not the right way out, looking forward,'' Jackson said.