In the last decade or so, Gainesville has produced prominent politicians including former Gov. Nathan Deal, former Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.
State Sen. Butch Miller hopes to be the next local Republican to reach the No. 2 spot at the Capitol.
“What’s in the water up there?” Craig Kidd, chief of staff for Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, asked before interviewing Miller for the Georgia Politics Podcast Tuesday, April 19, in Alpharetta.
During the half-hour interview, Kidd and Miller went over familiar campaign issues, including some of the legislation that passed and some that failed, in what Kidd called one of the most conservative sessions he could remember.
Miller has focused on election security issues throughout his campaign after sponsoring SB 202 in 2021, a 98-page bill that changed Georgia’s voting process, including limiting the number of ballot drop boxes, requiring voter ID to request an absentee ballot and adding Saturday and Sunday voting.
Since then, Miller proposed a constitutional amendment to end non-citizen voting, which is already against the law in the state, and legislation to eliminate ballot drop boxes altogether. Both failed during the 2022 session.
“Citizenship matters and voting is sacred,” Miller said, adding that he was surprised there was opposition to his proposal, which required a two-thirds majority and failed to pass after a party-line vote.
Miller was first elected to the state Senate in 2010. He still runs Milton Martin Honda, a dealership in Gainesville that is set to move soon to Oakwood, and has worked in the auto industry for more than 30 years.
He serves as the president pro tempore of the Senate, where he worked closely with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who announced last March he would not seek re-election, clearing the way for a competitive primary race.
Miller has proposed legislation to eliminate the state income tax, supported bills targeting the teaching of critical race theory in schools and preventing transgender girls from competing in youth sports.
“It is literally right on the surface with most Georgians,” he told Kidd when asked about education issues. “You bring up critical race theory, eliminating it from schools, spontaneous applause.”
He’s latched onto certain conservative issues that Republican voters care about, but Hans Appen, owner of Appen Media in North Fulton, said few people in his area were aware of Miller before he started running for lieutenant governor. Awareness is often an uphill battle for candidates who make the transition from a regional office to a statewide seat.
After the interview, Miller traveled through rush hour traffic to Johns Creek for a fundraising event at Atlanta Athletic Club. In a van with his two closest team members, Caleb Rudin, his driver and political director, and Neil Bitting, his campaign manager, Miller talked about the difference in running for lieutenant governor compared with state Senate.
“We’ve been very fortunate in that we have a network of people helping us throughout the state both legislatively and otherwise,” Miller said. “Most towns we go in, we end up knowing a few people there and then many of them leverage their relationships and friendships to get us an introduction.”
“There’s some people that yes, it helps with because … we’ve had successful people from the area,” Miller said of his Gainesville roots. “On the other hand, you have people who say, ‘well heck, Gainesville and Hall County have had enough of these people,’ so it cuts both ways.”
Deal and former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who died in December, have been mentors for him throughout the process, Miller said.
Bitting said it’s likely advantageous to be from North Georgia, because his campaign estimates that about two-thirds of the primary electorate are from north of Interstate 20.
“I’ll tell you one big difference between running in Hall County and running statewide is running statewide is a hell of a lot more expensive,” Bitting said.
The 2022 lieutenant governor race has drawn an extraordinary amount of money already. As of Jan. 31, the last reporting period available, Miller had raised about $3.4 million, and his main opponent, Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, had raised $1.7 million and added $2 million of his own funds to his campaign.
Jones has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump and has touted that endorsement during his campaign.
Friends of Miller hope his distance from Trump will work in his favor come Election Day on May 24.
Miller’s fifth event of the day was held in an all-glass room at the clubhouse overlooking the Atlanta Athletic Club golf course. His wife, Teresa, joined him there along with a couple dozen other friends and supporters, many of whom knew Miller through a boating club.
Running for statewide office can take a lot of time away from a candidate’s family. Teresa said she has shared only two dinners at home with her husband since he announced his campaign last May, including Easter Sunday two days prior. Miller joked he subsists on peanut M&Ms and Snickers bars during busy campaign days.
Teresa Miller often joins him at campaign events when she can, she said, and he has still managed to sleep in his own bed most nights.
“Busy, busy, busy,” Teresa said. “He’s usually up … by 6 a.m., sometimes as early as 3 in the morning. He comes in, collapses around 10 at night depending on where he’s coming in from, and the next morning he does it again.”
And the Millers have a busy May ahead, with their first two grandchildren due in the weeks before Election Day May 24.
Reg Davis, who hosted the fundraising event, said Trump’s lack of endorsement for Miller could help his campaign.
“He’s a car dealer,” Davis said. “He knows how to negotiate. He can work both sides of the aisle and get things done. We’re not sure who our next governor is going to be, so we need somebody in there who can navigate those waters.”
Several others agreed, including Nip Green, who hadn’t met Miller before the event that afternoon.
“He’s charismatic,” Green said. “You can look at somebody and see if they’re maliced. …
I love Trump. He’s my guy, but the deal is you have to know when to keep your mouth shut. In other words, there’s a time and place for everything.”
Other friends of Miller’s said they liked his proposal to eliminate the state income tax, but mostly people mentioned his friendly and gregarious personality, calling him a “genuine guy.”
“He is also a car dealer, who is used to dealing with adults who act like children,” said Matthew Tyser, a Roswell City Councilman who is running for Fulton County Commissioner.