Dean’s Speaker Series with Gary Miller

Athenian Society Hosts Discussion Featuring U.S. Congressman Gary Miller

By Blaise Nutter

Dean Jack Knott with Congressman Gary Miller Dean Jack Knott, left, speaks with Congressman Gary Miller

Covering many complex questions facing the nation in areas like the financial crisis, health care reform, transportation and regulation, U.S. Congressman Gary Miller (R-Calif.) spoke at a recent event sponsored by USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

The discussion, held at The City Club in downtown Los Angeles, was part of the Dean’s Speaker Series presented by the SPPD Athenian Society, the school’s premiere philanthropic support group.

SPPD C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Dean and professor Jack H. Knott engaged Rep. Miller in a spirited discussion with the audience, which included SPPD Athenian members, USC alumni and current students. Rep. Miller offered what wisdom he had learned in nearly 30 years of public service.

“If you really want to help working people, you do the best you can to create the best environment for businesses to create,” he said. “If businesses do well, they hire people, pay good salaries [and] good benefits. You regulate businesses to death, they do just the opposite.”

Having started the G. Miller Development Company in his mid-20s and grown it into a major developer of planned communities, Rep. Miller said the difficulties he had with government as a businessman were what drove him into politics. He wanted to change how things worked. “I was naïve,” he quipped, as the audience laughed.

In a discussion of the financial crisis, Rep. Miller faulted Congress for not acting sooner and failing to pass amendments he had offered that would fix certain issues – namely subprime lending and mark-the-market regulations. He also defended Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying Congress had pushed the lenders to make it too easy to buy a home without the proper underwriting standards.

Rather than spend billions on stimulus and bailouts, Rep. Miller wants to invest in transportation, an issue that resonates with many Californians. Specifically, he feels that the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports merit investment, as the region is involved in 40 to 50 percent of the country’s imports. However, he reported that a major transportation bill was being delayed 18 months.

When asked about California’s budget, Rep. Miller had a candid diagnosis: “The state of California is going to have to start living within its means. It can’t be all things to all people. They keep passing more bills, which cost more money, and they have no way of paying it,” he said. “You can’t have California this year again running a $ 20 billion deficit and the federal government running a $ 1.6 trillion deficit and not expect someone to get mad at you.”

On the health care front, he believes Congress must tackle issues like tort reform and malpractice, pre-existing conditions, COBRA, the purchase of insurance across state lines, and mandates. As someone who chose not to buy health care when he started his business, Rep. Miller believes that’s a choice many people already make and that forcing people to pay for health insurance is wrong.

Yet despite any disagreements of opinion, Rep. Miller struck a bipartisan tone throughout the event, praising Democrats like Rep. Barney Frank for putting aside their egos, listening to their fellow lawmakers and the American people, and getting things done. To Miller, that is an example of real leadership.

“I think if you put your ego behind yourself and do something that’s really good and work for somebody else who’s doing it, regardless of who gets credit for it, you’ll get things done,” he said.

And for people interested in getting into government, he urged them start local, just as he did. “Government is changing, because this economy is changing. And we need bright young people to get involved in government.”

The SPPD Dean’s Speakers Series continues on April 29 with a discussion on leadership in health policy featuring Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health, and Dana Goldman, director of the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.

Photo by Tom Queally