By John Grennan

At a Nov. 19 Soda Center town forum with Saint Mary’s students, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, discussed efforts to make higher education more affordable and outlined his party’s differences with the Bush administration on Iraq.

The House Labor and Education Committee chair and ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi also reminisced about his family’s connection to the College. Miller’s father, who served in the California State Assembly from 1947 to 1948, and the state Senate from 1949 until his death in 1969, graduated from SMC in 1935. Congressman Miller attended Saint Mary’s in the 1960s before later graduating from San Francisco State and UC Davis School of Law.

Miller, a House member since 1975 representing parts of Contra Costa and Solano counties, explained that this generation of college students is already having an impact in Washington by bringing increased attention to environmental issues.
“Students of this nation take climate change more seriously than policymakers, and have emphasized that they want change,” Miller told the audience of more than 140 students, faculty and visitors a month before Congress passed historic legislation on fuel-efficiency standards and alternative fuels.

Brother President Ronald Gallagher, a student at Saint Mary’s at the same time as Miller, commended the congressman for securing passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act — which lowered interest rates on student loans and expanded Pell Grants for low-income students.

“We’re happy you championed this bill and that you know how important higher education is to the future of this country,” Brother Ronald said.

One of Capitol Hill’s most authoritative voices on education, Miller indicated he would continue to champion student causes, including a bill to forgive college loans for students who go into public service professions.

“It’s imperative that we attract the best people into medicine, education, public-defense law and law enforcement, and that they don’t turn away from these careers because of student loans,” Miller said.

It was the second time in 2007 that Saint Mary’s students had an opportunity to interact with one of the state’s top congressional leaders. U.S. Rep Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, held a similar forum at the College in March.

Miller, who voted against the Congressional authorization of force in Iraq in 2002, has remained one of the war’s most vocal Capitol Hill critics. He indicated that he supports an immediate redeployment of troops within Iraq and a phased withdrawal from the country. He said the White House is preventing this change in strategy.

“This president doesn’t have the courage to redeploy troops and is waiting for the next president,” Miller said, adding “Everyone knows we’re leaving Iraq. But even after everyone knew we were leaving Vietnam, 21,000 more American soldiers lost their lives.”

After the forum, Miller spoke with students studying education policy, answering questions and explaining the political side of the legislative process.

“He has been such a prominent national figure in these arenas for a long time, which made it quite a privilege for my students to speak with a major policymaker from an informed perspective,” said sociology professor Cynthia Ganote.

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