Congress to Classroom:

John Miller Joins Faculty of NW Yeshiva High School

A native of New York City, former Washington state Rep. John Miller attributes his relocation to Seattle to a fourth-grade geography book.
In the book, there was a page on each section of the country, recalled Miller. The page on the Puget Sound showed a picture of trees with misty rain coming down. The paragraph on the Puget Sound area mentioned that it had rivers, lakes, forests and a temperate climate.

“I didn’t know what the word ‘temperate’ meant, but they defined it in the next paragraph as ‘neither too hot nor too cold,”‘ he said. “I don’t remember if it was boiling hot or freezing cold at the time (in New York).”

He said he probably would’ve forgotten about it had his parents not been patronizing when he said that he wanted to move here.

“They said, ‘That’s absurd,”‘ said Miller, adding that his mother said he’d forget about it in two weeks.

Two weeks later, he still hadn’t changed his mind. And looking for a place to practice law after graduating from Yale University Law School in 1964, he remembered wanting to come here.

“So out I came and that was it,” Miller said.

Miller, 64, has called Seattle home for more than 30 years now.

His father was a lawyer and his mother worked in the fashion industry. Miller said he didn’t have a strong passion and drifted into law. He briefly served in the Army after earning a law degree and a master’s degree in economics.

Since moving to Seattle, the transplant has served on the Seattle City Council in the 1970s and Congress, representing the 1st District, from 1983 until 1993. He’s even worked as assistant Attorney General for the state.

Since leaving Washington, D.C., Miller has spent the last decade working with the conservative public policy organization, Discovery Institute, first as a contributor and currently as chairman of the board of directors. He’s also a founder of the Cascadia Project, which works to promote the region between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., as one — politically, socially and economically.

And now Miller is in his first semester teaching at Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island, where he teaches two language arts sections and a current affairs class.

One would think Miller would want to teach social studies or government, but Miller said he likes teaching something that is not in his niche because of the challenge.

“It’s been fun, not only the interaction with the students, but with the intellectual exploration,” he said.

Bill Hesse, assistant dean for general studies at Northwest Yeshiva, hired Miller.

“I can’t believe he’s here,” Hesse said. “And yet, we’re not treating him any differently than anyone else and he’s not expecting to be treated any differently.”

Northwest Yeshiva High School combines traditional Judaic studies with college preparatory classes. While being Jewish isn’t a requirement to teach at the school, Miller himself is Jewish.

Miller’s resume would make most people envious, said Hesse, and he brings a wealth of experience. Plus, Miller is respected by members of both politically parties.

“He is the most modest politician I’ve ever met,” said Hesse. “He’s just a very nice human being.”

Miller got his start in politics when he was elected to the Seattle City Council in 1972 on a reform ticket.

It was a different era, he said, and the group he was with worked to reform the council to have open meetings and access for citizens and to urge the council to get into legislative issues rather than issuing liquor licenses.

“I and others had a different view of what a council should be doing,” Miller said.

Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, also ran and won on the reform ticket with Miller. Chapman called Miller “a forward-looking, moderate conservative.”

When Miller ran for Congress in 1982, he was one of 13 candidates running for the open seat. His interests on the City Council included the environment, but shifted when he was elected to the House. There, he served on the Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees. Trade and human rights became his new interests, and he encouraged human rights in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

He retired from Congress to spend more time with his then 4-year-old son, Rip, and his wife, June. Plus, it was time to go.

While there were more issues in Washington, D.C., Miller said he felt he had greater influence on a nine-member council than in a 435-member House of Representatives.

“No member of Congress, not even the Speaker of the House, has as much influence proportionately as one member of a nine-member city council,” he said. “That’s the trade-off.”

While he enjoys teaching at the Yeshiva, Miller said he doesn’t know what the future holds for him.

“It seems that every six or eight years, I metamorphose into something else,” he said.