U graduate student seeks Minneapolis political office

by Bryce Haugen

As a child in Golden Valley, Minn., Dan Miller said, he loved Minneapolis.

Miller said he took pride in the city’s landmarks – such as the Walker Art Center’s “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture – and the city’s problems saddened him.

“It’s always been personal,” he said. “I took the city personally.”

After high school, Miller trekked to Massachusetts to attend the College of the Holy Cross.

He said he left his heart in Minnesota.

He returned in 2001 and two years later enrolled at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, where he is a graduate teaching assistant.

Now, the 25-year-old Democrat is a Prospect Park neighborhood resident and has jumped in the campaign for Minneapolis City Council’s Ward 2 seat, which represents campus and surrounding areas. And as the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly vice president for public affairs, he will testify today at the State Senate.

Personal mission

As some sat in suburban comfort, oblivious to the problems of the world, Miller said, he was deeply concerned at a young age.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I have felt a sense of personal responsibility for injustice in the world,” he said.

But Miller said that concern didn’t translate into action until late in high school when he decided to pursue a political

science degree in college.

Instead of student government, he participated in cross country, baseball, mock trial, football and a few plays, though he said “the acting wasn’t pretty.”

At the College of the Holy Cross, Miller got his first taste of politics, running unsuccessfully for first-year class president.

That election was an important learning experience, he said.

“(I learned) it’s not enough to say your ideas,” he said. “You have to go out and talk to people and work for it.”

Miller said taking ideas from the public and turning them into public policy “is really the root of why I’m running (for the City Council).”

Minnesota Student Association Vice President Amy Jo Pierce, who will testify with Miller today, said her colleague possesses the passion, knowledge and tact to get his goals accomplished.

“He knows how to work with people,” she said. “He’s very strategic Ö he’s very motivational.”

East Coast politics

While attending the College of the Holy Cross, Miller interned in Washington for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 1999 and at the White House in 2000.

Working for former President Bill Clinton, Miller interned for the National Economic Council, which develops White House economic policy.

Miller said he remembers experiencing the 2000 election – and the subsequent legal challenges – in the West Wing.

“It was an awkward work environment, to say the least,” he said.

After his two stints in Washington, Miller said, he had had enough.

“National politics is really ugly,” he said. “I didn’t want to be involved in national politics, because it’s so far removed from people’s everyday lives.”

He said he missed “Minnesota nice.”

Every time I left Minnesota, I realized how much I love Minnesota,” he said. “Except when it’s this cold.”

Return to Minnesota

In June 2001, Miller returned home, landing a job at the Council on Crime and Justice in Minneapolis.

The next year, he worked for state Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, at the State Capitol.

“At that point, I just wanted to sink my teeth into public policy in the real world,” Miller said.

But he said he soon realized he wanted to return to school to build on his political science and economics background. He also said he wanted to learn more about the ins and outs of policymaking.

So in fall 2003, Miller enrolled in the Humphrey Institute with a full-ride fellowship. He will graduate in May.

He returned to student government as a GAPSA vice president, co-founding the Student Public Affairs Coalition with Pierce.

The new group initially focused on getting young people to vote Nov. 2. Now, after the election, the focus is lobbying the Legislature for University funding.

Miller has been a valuable addition to GAPSA, said the group’s president, Abu Jalal.

“He has come up with some really excellent ideas on how to bring student viewpoint to the governor’s office and legislators,” he said.

Besides GAPSA, Miller said, he is focused on winning the Ward 2 Democratic nomination and the general election.

Humphrey Institute professor John Brandl, a former legislator whom Miller described as a personal mentor, said Miller is a natural politician.

“Dan doesn’t just want to hold office, he believes he has a responsibility to devise good public policy,” Brandl said. “He’s got it in his blood.”

Miller said he has no interest in state or federal office.

“When I worked at the higher levels, I realized I didn’t want to be at the higher levels,” he said. “I think that’s probably the opposite of most people.”

If he loses this fall’s election, Miller said, he will consider becoming a professor.

“But more than anything, I’d like to be a City Council person,” he said.