SOUTHEASTERN N.C. –– Steve Miller knows D.C. Before congressional committees on environmental and energy issues, he’s testified as an expert witness about a dozen times.
After getting his start in the Environmental Protection Agency’s planning and evaluation office in 1973, Miller went on to open his own consulting firm. He continued to work alongside the EPA, other federal agencies, and private companies in the environmental technology industry.
New Hanover County residents may recognize Miller from the 2020 Democratic primary, in which he earned the fifth-most votes out of six candidates, short of securing a spot on the November ballot for a seat on the board of commissioners.
Last year, he was unnerved by a development proposed and ultimately approved in Porters Neck that one commissioner heralded as being a walkable haven to commercial centers (the stroll included a trek along a drainage ditch and traversing a crosswalk-less Market Street). Frankly, Miller was pissed, he said. “I made a spur of the moment decision two months before the primary,” he said. He self-funded his campaign, caught up on the difference between R-15 and R-7, and headed into the primary, propelled by his disdain for the local land-use decision.
“The commissioner thing was a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “I am much more attuned to national and international issues.”
Miller said he’s far more comfortable in a federal arena. “I know how DC works,” he said. “I’m now much more rational and reasoned in the way I want to dethrone David Rouzer.”
Rouzer’s term is up in early 2023 and is running for re-election for a fifth term in the November 2022 election.
The entrepreneur once again pumped his own money into his campaign to take Rouzer’s 7th Congressional House District, but this time he said he’s more than doubled his initial investment thanks to supporters and friends. A full-time paid campaign manager, a full-time unpaid treasurer, and an intern are helping to shape his message.
Amanda Brown, Miller’s campaign manager, has filmed the candidate in various spots of his home (sometimes it’s lounging on the couch, the kitchen table, by the fireplace), while he rehearses snippets of his top-line policy beliefs, broadcast on TikTok. With recurring themes of the federal decriminalization of marijuana and Republicans running afoul of rules, Miller’s quick hits have garnered thousands of views. In one, he sings a verse from “Fly Like an Eagle” by the ‘60s-’70s band that shares his name (he also sang the same section in his interview with Port City Daily).
Miller’s congressional ambitions are just that; he isn’t interested in using the platform, if elected, as a stepping stone for something else. “When you’re a freshman congressman, you don’t have a lot of influence,” he said. “But the thing is I don’t much care about a career, I’m going to use my voice. I’m not ambitious to mind my Ps and Qs and get to the next level to be a senator and a governor and a president. I’m too old for that.”
He intends to be outspoken. Shying away from a “moderate” or “progressive” label, Miller’s views vary depending on what he’s asked about. He’s moderate when it comes to a proposed Medicare for all plan touted by progressives and is instead in favor of a more gradual transition –– “over time, more and more people are going to choose the less expensive, better policy of the public option. Slowly but surely private companies will fade away.” When it comes to abortion rights, he identifies as “pretty radical,” and is quick to let his female campaign manager speak on the issue instead: “There needs to be broad, specific federal legislation that protects a woman’s right to choose and limits the abilities of the states to pass these laws that make it inaccessible by default,” Brown said.
After realizing red states forwarding what he sees as regressive abortion policies have the highest infant mortality rates, Miller said he “changed his tune.”
“I no longer call them pro-birth. I call them pro-gestation. That’s really all they care about is forcing a woman to term and that’s it. And then they wash their hands and say, ‘OK you’re on your own,’” he said. “This is a powerfully important issue for me. This is infringement at the worst level. And especially when it’s all a bunch of men, old men, making these decisions.”
Another key issue for Miller is improving and helping to fund quality care in rural hospitals –– the 7th district has several, with most of the landmass being rural while anchored by Wilmington. Because rural hospitals have a higher proportion of uninsured patients, they struggle financially, leading to a lowered quality of care.
Compared to previous Democratic candidates, Miller intends to focus more of his campaign on rural communities (Bladen, Johnston, Columbus, Brunswick, Pender, Sampson, and a chunk of Harnett).
“I’m going everywhere I’m going to connect with everyone, but I’m not going to make the fool’s gold mistake of trying to reach out to Republicans,” he said. “Independents who may lean right, fine.”
Any Republicans still remaining in the party after President Donald Trump’s political career aren’t worth focusing on, he explained.
According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Trump voters believe he won the 2020 presidential election (which Rouzer voted to overturn the results of).
“How in heaven’s name is any Democrat going to reach out to them and get them to vote for a Democrat if they don’t even believe that Trump lost the election?” he said.
Getting a drinking water standard for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) will take time, in an arduous but necessary process Miller knows well from his time at the EPA. He said he’ll work to “push the EPA ever harder to go faster on setting standards,” while still understanding the glacial pace these efforts take. “The regulatory process is slow,” he said. “It’s going to happen in this administration.”
Miller also strongly supports increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations to make the clean energy alternative more accessible and widespread. Most importantly, he said he intends to champion voting rights in light of suppression tactics that have disproportionately targeted Black Americans.
“Voting rights are the rights from which all other rights flow,” Miller said. “If you don’t have the right to vote you don’t really have a democracy any longer and everything else is going to be tainted by the autocracy that’s going to develop.”
Learn more about Steve Miller.
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