WASHINGTON -- One of the most vocal financial reformers in Congress, Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), said Thursday he will not seek re-election if a Republican redistricting plan is approved in his state. Miller's decision avoids what promised to be a difficult primary struggle between himself and fellow North Carolina Democratic Rep. David Price, but likely leaves Congress without its earliest and most outspoken critic of abusive subprime lending practices.
"I told David within a week of the election last year that with the Republicans in control of redistricting, we would almost certainly be drawn into the same district. And to be honest, since David has broadly hinted to me and others that he would only serve one more term, I believed that he would retire a term earlier than he intended in the circumstances. That obviously has not happened. David has made it very clear that he intends to run again," Miller said in a statement released to supporters. "I had two choices: run in a primary with David, or not seek another term."
The Republican redistricting plan is still being challenged in court on civil rights grounds. If approved, it would dramatically change the North Carolina political map, likely shifting the House delegation from the current mix of 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans to one with just 3 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Of the 21.5 percent of the state's residents who are African-American, half would reside in just three districts.
Miller's seat has been a top target in the redistricting process, amid heavy pressure from the state's very powerful banking lobby. Bank of America is headquartered in North Carolina, as was Wachovia prior to its failure and acquisition by Wells Fargo, which now has a tremendous presence in the state. Opposition to Miller has spread through many of the state's business organizations, lawyer groups, and political parties.
Miller earned that ire by advocating for consumers and playing a major role in the passage of 2010's Wall Street reform legislation. He is respected by Congressional leadership for his legislative effectiveness, and beloved by progressive activists for passionately defending consumers against corporate abuses.
In 2004, Miller introduced a bill to curb the issuance of abusive subprime mortgages -- legislation which eventually became the mortgage reform chapter of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, passed in 2010. In 2009, he introduced a bill to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, an idea launched by consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, now a senate candidate in Massachusetts. The core of Miller's legislation would ultimately become law as yet another section of Dodd-Frank, establishing the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB.
The Republican redistricting plan converts Miller's 13th District from a region with more than 60 percent support for Barack Obama in the 2008 election to one with majority support for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that year. Much of the territory now covered by the 13th District, including Miller's current home and hometown of Fayetteville, would be pushed into the re-drawn 4th District, currently represented by Price.
Miller, 59, and Price, 71, have voted similarly, particularly in recent years, but have differed on some key financial reform issues. Both supported Dodd-Frank, but Price had supported much of the key Clinton-era deregulation that occurred before Miller came to Congress. Price also voted in favor of a 2005 bill that made it harder to file for bankruptcy, legislation that Miller opposed. The bill is now credited by economists at the New York Federal Reserve with having caused 200,000 foreclosures. Price was also a founding member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and part of the New Democrat Coalition, a cadre of Democrats closely attuned to the interests of corporate executives. He is no longer a member of either group.
While Miller is a darling of progressive activists, including grassroots fundraising groups like the Progressive Campaign Change Committee and Democracy for America, a group founded by Howard Dean, his fundraising has been crimped ever since his bank reform efforts began gathering momentum. In the 2006 cycle, Miller raised $1.8 million for his reelection bid. By 2008, when banks realized his mortgage reform positions weren't mere political posturing, that total plunged to $950,000. In 2010, he took in just $930,000.
Price issued a statement on Thursday praising Miller and vowing to fight the Republican redistricting plan.
"North Carolinians deserve members of Congress who fight for what is right, and Brad Miller has been fighting for what is right for the last decade," Price said. "His decision today will avoid a divisive primary in the Fourth District if the unfair and illegal maps drawn by General Assembly Republicans are allowed to govern this election. I will continue to fight -- with Congressional and General Assembly colleagues -- to overturn them in court."
Miller was less sanguine about the prospects for a successful court challenge during this election cycle. In an email to supporters, he emphasized that his decision not to run for re-election will in fact be the end of his House career.
"I do not have an agreement with David to step aside now and run in two years when he retires, as has been widely rumored, nor have I tried to strike any deal," he said. "The reality is that if I sat out a term and returned to Congress, I would be starting over for most purposes. I would have no assurance of my committee assignments and even if I won assignment to the same committees, I would lose all seniority. Just as important, the debate on the issues that I care about, and on which I am now a leader, would move on. No, I could not simply pick up where I left off."