Will It Soon be Jeff Miller Time in Florida?
Around the State
Jeff Miller drew some national attention on veterans' issues in recent months and he’s now using it to expand his profile and his political prominence across the state.
Miller is starting to pitch in for his fellow Republicans when they need help. In early March, less than two weeks before the special election, Miller did an event focusing on veterans' affairs with David Jolly, who was then running in a tight race against Alex Sink. This coming Tuesday, Miller will swing across North Florida to Jacksonville for an event with Ander Crenshaw on veterans' affairs.
The event comes a week before the Republican primary. Crenshaw has generally been an easy winner but he is facing a more serious challenge this time out in Ryman Shoaf, a Navy captain who worked briefly for Ted Yoho. Shoaf has waged an impressive campaign but remains an underdog. Still, this is the most serious challenge Crenshaw has seen in years and Miller dropping in a week before the primary can only help the longtime congressman.
Events across the state are a bit of a change-up for the Panhandle congressman. No doubt about it. Miller has always cast a longer shadow in the Beltway than he ever has in Florida. Part of that comes from Miller’s stomping ground, since the Panhandle is easily the most isolated and insular part of the state.
Still, Miller could end up as a potential candidate for statewide office, especially if his efforts to head up the House Intelligence Committee collapse. Despite his many years in politics, Miller is only 55 so there is time for him to head back to Florida, if that’s what he wants.
Miller does have the background to fill Adam Putnam’s shoes if that’s where his ambitions take him. Long before he served in Congress, Miller was the executive assistant to longtime Florida Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner and he also served in the Florida House. There’s been buzz that Miller wants to follow in Conner’s footsteps and Putnam is expected to seek higher office come 2018.
Of course, a large part of what Miller does depends on his attempts to climb up the leadership ladder. First elected to Congress in 2001 to fill the place of Joe Scarborough who resigned his seat, Miller has steadily risen up the ranks during his time in Washington. Besides leading the Veterans Affairs Committee, Miller sits on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Mike Rogers, the current chair of the Intelligence Committee, is retiring from Congress this year and Miller has already floated his name as a replacement. It would be a big step for Miller, who was named to the committee back in 2009, and he faces some rivals like Peter King and Devin Nunes for the post. Miller’s an underdog but he certainly hasn’t hurt his chances of moving up with his leadership on veterans' issues.
At the very least, Miller isn’t losing sleep at home since he has one of the safest Republican congressional seats in Florida. Only twice -- in 2001 when he ran in the special election and in 2006 which was one of the best years in recent memory for Democrats -- did Miller receive less than 70 percent of the general election vote. Miller should have no problem keeping his seat yet again this year.
Miller was front and center on the national stage as the VA was rocked with scandals over wait lists at its hospitals. While he didn’t get everything he wanted in the final bill that he crafted with Bernie Sanders, Miller emerged from the VA mess as a winner. Now he’s helping out fellow Florida Republicans like Jolly and Crenshaw, collecting IOUs. If Miller’s bid to move up the Republican congressional ranks fizzles out, he could start cashing in his chips come 2018 and end up at his old boss Conner’s desk.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.