(Jeff) Miller time at the Cordell Hull?

miller-mug2After a 12-year absence, former state Sen. Jeff Miller has returned to the General Assembly as a lobbyist for a golf cart company that he has represented as a lawyer. And he is soliciting more business.

“Many of the legislators I worked with still serve and we have remained in touch,” Miller writes in a solicitation letter “to whom it may concern” that has raised some eyebrows as it was circulated around  the Cordell Hull building.

“Having been a legislator, I know the system, I know how legislators think, I know how they want to be treated, and I know their support staff which largely remains the same from when I actively served in that capacity. My knowledge and experience makes me uniquely qualified to advocate for you and your interests, and I would love to earn your business,” the letter says.

Miller, of Cleveland, served dozen years as a legislator before deciding against seeking reelection in 2006 — part of that time was as Senate Republican Caucus. He served as Senate sponsor of the resolution that set up a statewide vote on the “marriage protection” amendment to the Tennessee Constitution, which declares that only marriage between one man and one woman will be recognized in Tennessee. The amendment was approved by voters in 2006, but was effectively overridden by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015.

Before announcing his decision to leave the General Assembly, Miller got a fair amount of media attention for sponsoring the amendment, including a report that he had a brother who is gay. Then the Chattanooga Times Free Press broke the news that the sponsor of the amendment aimed at “solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman” was accused in a divorce case of cheating on his wife.

”He is very hypocritical, fighting for the sanctity of marriage and not keeping his own,” the senator’s then-wife of 15 years, Brigitte Suzanne Miller, told the newspaper at the time. Following the divorce, Miller married Jessa Fahey, part of the legislative support staff while he was in office. The solicitation letter appears on Miller Law Office stationary with Jessa Miller’s name along with the former senator’s name and photograph as part of the letterhead.

Miller in 2005 received a $1,000 contribution from a representative of E-Cycle Management, the sham company set up by the FBI as part of the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting that led to the convictions of five former lawmakers. Miller said the money was a legitimate campaign contribution and that the did nothing wrong. He was investigated, but never charged.

Miller was appointed as tax collection lawyer for Bradley County after leaving the legislature and was subsequently charged with official misconduct and fraud for alleged over-billing. He was acquitted by a jury verdict in 2009 after his attorney argued that Miller that the charges were politically motivated. Miller was appointed to the tax collector position while his father was county trustee; the charges came after his father’s successor took office.

Miller’s first client is MidSouth Golf Carts, a company that specializes in fixing carts to assure they meet federal standards required for driving the vehicles on a public road. In his debut public appearance as a lobbyist, Miller told the Senate Transportation Committee that, with his help as an attorney, the company has been licensed a legal “manufacturer” and thus qualified to issue a certificate declaring carts meet the standards.

The bill eliminates what sponsors – Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown) – call a “loophole” in current state law that lets cart owners sign an affidavit saying they’re in compliance without a manufacturer’s certificate. Howell told a House subcommittee that that encourages “lying” to dodge important safety features involving windshield solidity, lights and seat belts.

Miller endured a barrage of questions by lawmakers suggesting the measure would encourage regional monopolies of those with certificates, prohibit owner self-repairs and endanger the use of carts by senior citizens or the disabled to putter around their neighborhoods.

After the critical questioning, votes in both the House and Senate Transportation Committees were delayed until next week with legislators suggesting they want the bill revised and Miller indicating he would try to address the concerns.

None of the nine members of the Senate Transportation Committee were serving in the Senate when Miller left the legislature – though one, Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) was in the House. Only two of the 16 representatives on the House Transportation Committee – Reps. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) — were legislators at the time.

While the committees didn’t go along with the bill as introduced, Miller did get a friendly reception. Howell, elected in 2014 to represents Bradley County, called Miller “a close friend” at the subcommittee appearance and Gardenhire told the Senate panel that he was a “high school classmate” of Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville). Under current state Senate district alignments, Bell and Gardenhire both have portions of the county that was represented by Miller when he was in office.


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