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Miller to stay a Democrat, but push conservative line

Zell Miller
Zell Miller  


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Georgia Sen. Zell Miller says he thought about leaving the Democratic Party but decided to stay and fight for more conservative positions, including tax cuts, from within.

"I finally came to the conclusion that nobody is going to lure or drive me out of this old house I've lived in all my life," Miller, a maverick Democrat who has supported President Bush in key Senate votes, told CNN on Thursday.

Miller said he would not become a Republican, and "I don't have any need to proclaim my independence, " as Vermont Sen. James Jeffords did Thursday.

"I think the direction I want to take the Democratic Party is the direction that our founding fathers, and even a few years (ago) Democrats, were taking," he said.

Jeffords' decision to become an independent will flip control of the Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats. Miller said he hopes Democrats "will do better as the majority party than they did as the minority party."

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"I thought as the minority party, we were far too shrill, far too eager to get even with people instead trying to find ways to go along," he said.

A Miller defection the other way would have kept the chamber in Republican hands. Asked if Democrats can count on him for the foreseeable future, he said, "They can count on me being there and telling them when I think they're wrong and voting against what maybe some of the leadership wants if I think what the leadership wants is not in the best interests of Georgia or this nation."

The 69-year-old Miller is a popular former two-term governor appointed last year to replace the late GOP Sen. Paul Coverdell. He was elected to the remaining four years of Coverdell's term in November.

Miller's support of President George W. Bush's tax cut plan and several controversial Bush appointees angered some Democrats and fueled speculation that he might bolt the party.

He called speculation that he would change parties "exaggerated" and said he was not pressured either to stay or go. But he made it clear that has serious differences with his more liberal colleagues in the Democratic caucus, particularly over the issue of tax cuts: Democratic opposition to tax cuts "plays terrible out there in the Wal-Mart parking lot," he said.

"Tax cuts are good policy and good politics," he said. "The main problem that the Democrats have is that the people don't trust us with their money ... And they don't trust us with their money because they think we're going to take it all and spend it and not ever send them any back. That is different from the way it used to be."

Miller, who represents a state Bush carried easily in 2000, said Democrats need to do more to reach out to conservative voters in the South and elsewhere who support the president.

"Right now, that's the fastest growing area of this country," he said. "There are more electoral votes in that part of the United States in the next election than there will be in this last election, and they better pay some attention to those conservative voters."







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