David Miller, Lumpkin County Commissioner. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

David Miller: A professor and a politician

David Miller is a Brenau professor of health care management and a Lumpkin County Commissioner. The two positions may seem random, but Miller uses his experiences to the benefit of Brenau students and his constituents.

David Miller had never considered running for political office. Yet the Brenau professor of health care management is about half a year into his term as a Lumpkin County, Georgia, commissioner, a position with an interesting connection to his role at Brenau.

Miller never held public office before but has always had an interest in the county and what could be done to improve it. Miller and his wife, Sue, have owned property in Lumpkin County for about a decade and lived there for six years. Five years ago, he came to Brenau’s College of Business & Mass Communication, and three years later, he was approached about running for office.

“The person who had the position at the time called me and said he was running for another position. He sort of said, ‘Who could we get to run for this?’” Miller says. “We were going through all the people who had run in the past or might consider running, and he said, ‘What about you?’

“I had never thought about it. So I said, ‘What about me?’”

Real-life Connections

David Miller, Lumpkin County Commissioner. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)Miller’s expertise in health care business administration benefits the residents of Lumpkin County, for example, as he helps negotiate employee health care benefits. And his experiences as a county commissioner benefit his students in the classroom.

“It’s real life: budget, boots-on-the-ground, applied experience in what I’m teaching,” says Miller. “In classroom discussion, I try to bring in as much of that as I can.”

The business of health care is complex and far reaching, something students in the Brenau Master of Business Administration in health care management program must learn.

“I’m teaching health care law and policy in the business school,” says Miller. “One of the issues in health care has to do with the state certificate of need. So if you want to build a hospital, a stand-alone facility, you have to go through the state’s process to justify the need for this new building.”

Miller says in Lumpkin County, for example, Chestatee Regional Hospital has the state certificate of need. Yet Northeast Georgia Health System, based in Hall County with massive medical centers in Gainesville and Braselton, owns land in the county.

“What that means is Northeast Georgia Medical Center, which owns 50-some acres at the corner of Highway 60 and Georgia 400, can’t build a facility there because Chestatee Regional has the certificate of need for the county,” Miller explains. “That’s a real thing that I’m trying to negotiate, but it’s hard. So I’m bringing that real world health care example to the classroom.”

A Fun Run

What might come as a surprise to some, Miller describes the campaign process as “fun.”

“It actually was good,” says Miller, who had opposition in the primary but ran unopposed in the general election. “We had three debates, and a lot of people showed up. The Democratic Party had a debate, the Republican Party had a debate, and then there was a joint debate with I believe the Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Club. It wasn’t just my position – there were a number of county commission seats that were open, the county coroner was open, and there were multiple school board positions open. So it was a big election.”

Suzanne Erickson, dean of the College of Business and Mass Communication, describes Miller as “passionate about health care.”

“A professor of healthcare management in the MBA program, it was really this interest that motivated him to run for commissioner, as he was concerned about the availability of quality health care in Lumpkin County,” Erickson says. “And we commend him for it.”

Miller not only uses the experience in his classroom teaching, but he also presented a research project based on the election process at the 2017 Brenau University Research Symposium.

“I had been on the research symposium committee for years,” he says. “And I thought it might be of interest to some of the students about how they can become involved.”

Titled “Running for Political Office: Ruminations and Reflections,” the research presentation details how Miller successfully ran for the position in the 2016 election, the challenges he faced – including preconceived notions and his lack of political experience – and strategies for overcoming such challenges.

Representative Kevin Tanner, Allison Guisasola, Rachel Strazynski Shusner, Shelby Wrenn, Senator Butch Miller, Barbara Schell and David Miller pose for a photo with Gov. Nathan Deal.
Representative Kevin Tanner, Allison Guisasola, Rachel Strazynski Shusner, Shelby Wrenn, Senator Butch Miller, Barbara Schell and David Miller pose for a photo with Gov. Nathan Deal.

Political Engagement

It’s not the first time Miller has connected his students to legal and political processes. In 2015, he worked with a group of occupational therapy students to sponsor a bill that was passed in the Georgia legislature and signed by the governor.

HB 62 was initially developed as a class project by 2014 Brenau alumnae Allison Guisasola of Braselton, Ashley McCoy of Maysville, Rachel Strazynski of Atlanta and Shelby Wrenn of Clarkesville, in a public policy course taught by Miller.

Miller gave the students an assignment to “come up with an idea to modify an existing piece of legislation, what they think would be a good idea, and present this as a policy proposal.”

The students determined that it was difficult for the children of military personnel to qualify for one of the state’s special needs scholarships because of the law’s one-year residency requirement.

The students developed their proposal for amending state law and made a formal presentation to state Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) and Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), who agreed to assess the project. Tanner was particularly moved by the legislation given the military presence in his district. Miller’s own Lumpkin County has military heritage, given the Army Ranger School at Camp Frank D. Merrill and the University of North Georgia’s history as the state military college.

Tanner had a bill drafted to waive the residency requirement for special needs students whose parents are in Georgia on active military service. HB 62 was presented during the first week of the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly, and it easily passed in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal. Miller and three of the four students were present at the Atlanta Press Club when Deal signed the bill.

“It’s nice for the students and for me to be able to go back to subsequent classes and say, ‘Hey, you think what you do here doesn’t have any consequences?’” Miller says. “It does.”

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