Miller is a consistent conservative

By David S. Awbrey


David Awbrey is a former editor of the editorial page for The Wichita Eagle, now a freelance Kansas writer.


David Miller was conservative before conservative was cool.

The Eudora insurance agent who is challenging Gov. Bill Graves in this summer's Republican primary followed his own drummer when the two of us were students at the University of Kansas in the late 1960s. It was the era of student protest against the Vietnam War and post-adolescent liberation through drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll.

And watching it all with disgust was David Miller.

Miller and I were involved with KU student politics. During the 1969-70 academic year, I was student body president and appointed Miller as student government treasurer. I figured that anyone as conservative as Miller must be good with numbers.

He did know how balance a budget, but his stomach must have churned while he signed checks for programs and organizations supported by the leftist Student Senate, including the Black Student Union, a radical underground newspaper and an anti-Vietnam War veterans group.

And Miller not only didn't inhale, I doubt that he ever saw a marijuana joint. Acid-head hip he was not. He was the only person who wore a coat and tie to Student Senate meetings when the male sartorial standard was corduroy jeans, Sears work shirts and desert boots. Square, conservative, crew-cut straight -- David Miller.

Little did I know that he was the future of Kansas politics.

Time travel ahead 30 years and Miller is now the most influential conservative in Kansas. Pro-life, pro-gun rights and a cultural moralist who would make Cotton Mather seem libertine, Miller was instrumental in the social conservative takeover of the Kansas Republican Party. At 48 years old, he is the chieftain of an aggressive band of younger conservatives whose intensity and self-righteousness ironically matches that of the New Left crowd at KU in the 1960s.

But while some Kansas elected officials are conservative mainly out of political expediency, Miller is a true believer. He is not a careerist politician waving a constantly wet finger in the electoral winds, nor is he a political opportunist with Richter-scale instincts to detect the slightest shift in the electoral landscape.

David Miller is the most authentic person I have met in more than a quarter-century as a reporter and political commentator. That statement covers thousands of politicians, from U.S. presidents to school board members. None of them has had more personal integrity than Miller, few of them have been as committed to the principles they espoused.

And those qualities could lead Miller to the greatest upset in Kansas political history -- victory over Graves in this August's GOP primary.

Despite four years in office, Graves has yet to form a distinct identity among many voters. He is largely perceived as a competent administrator and a personable, self-effacing man who nevertheless still seems to be a work in progress. His signing of the new abortion law, while claiming that it contains lawyer-language that effectively guts the measure, revealed Graves as a Clinton-style politician trying to appease everyone while holding firm beliefs on nothing.

Political leaders without a clear mission resemble T.S. Eliot's "hollow men" -- individuals without a passion for anything but personal survival, merely advertisements for themselves.

Graves has largely defined himself politically by what he is not: He is not a social conservative like Miller. Even his strongest supporters see, Graves more like a Dutch boy at the dike holding back the flood of social conservatism than as an energized visionary leading Kansas into the 21st century.

In contrast, Miller's supporters are fervent about their causes and trust his leadership. Such grass-roots loyalty might prove decisive in a Republican primary where the dedication of conservative voters could counter Graves' high opinion poll numbers and huge financial resources.

For David Miller, the student who tilted right on a left-leaning campus in the 1960s, the times indeed have changed.

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