Miller plans focus on transportation, mental health and STEM education

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Aruna Miller initially resisted elected office when her resignation opened up a seat in the Maryland state legislature.

She worried. “Nobody looks like me who’s elected,” Miller, now 58, recalled in an interview. “No one will vote for me.” Then she thought what good she could do, she said.

And so began a journey Miller describes as incredible, which will conclude next week with a swearing-in alongside Maryland governor-elect Wes Moore as part of a history-making ticket.

Miller’s new position, lieutenant governor, has long been a bore of diplomacy: attending tapes, filling in for events the boss can’t do. But Miller and Moore see the work differently.

A career transportation engineer has a broad perspective on a position long relegated to junior status, with policy responsibilities in areas that match her expertise and personal experience.

Although she never expected to be here, Miller plans to make the most of it, for a woman who immigrated to the United States as a child and has reached the highest echelons of state government.

An engineer like her father, Miller saw her career in the public sector working on transportation projects as her way of giving back to her adopted country.

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“There was nothing in my sights that was elected,” she said. “As I often say, sometimes we have plans for life and other times life has plans for us.”

When Miller takes the oath of office on Wednesday, she will break a barrier that no other immigrant or woman of color has crossed before her. She was part of the historic Democratic ticket that won in November, giving Maryland its first black governor, first black attorney general and first female comptroller.

Moore, a political newcomer, has promised that Miller, a former state lawmaker who served two terms in the House of Delegates before running unsuccessfully for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District in 2018 against then-company CEO David Throne, would be “the most. the resulting Lieutenant Governor” in the country.

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He often describes Miller as an experienced lawmaker who he sees as his partner in closing Maryland’s wealth gap. He has joked that he had no worries when he asked her to be his runner, much like he did on his wedding day. “I was so ready because I knew it was the right thing to do,” he said at a fundraiser last year.

Under the state constitution, Miller has no clear duties other than acting as governor if Moore is incapacitated. According to the constitution, her role is otherwise delegated to Moore.

The Maryland legislature abolished the role of lieutenant governor in 1867 and did not reinstate it until more than a century later, when Governor Spiro Agnet became Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 presidential running mate. Most recently, outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (R) turned to his Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford for help while Hogan underwent cancer treatment.

Miller said her portfolio will have a broad focus on equity and will specifically include transportation, mental health and STEM education, areas where she will draw on personal and professional experience. Her father, who has since died, suffered from bipolar disorder when she was growing up, Miller said, and she plans to make improving mental health support a priority for “so many people who have been affected.”

Miller has risen to high office in Maryland as the state has become the most diverse on the East Coast, largely due to an influx of immigrants of color. About 1 million of the state’s roughly 6.2 million residents were born in other countries.

The heightened profile has created challenges for Miller, who is one of several Indian Americans across the country who have been accused by the Indian American Muslim Council of receiving funds from supporters affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Hindutva movement. India is under scrutiny from NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch over issues involving the treatment of its Muslim minority.

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Last month, the council urged U.S. Rep. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) not to invite Miller as a special guest to his birthday fundraiser (Miller did not attend because her father-in-law had passed away).

Moore’s campaign said other campaigns in Maryland and across the country have accepted donations from wealthy Indian-Americans, and that Miller also has religious freedom and support from Muslim communities.

“I think it’s an attempt to divide communities. And that’s not what we’re talking about. Maybe in the old country those divisions existed, but I’m an American,” Miller said, adding that she has attended events where she has been called “horrible person” and that the criticism is offensive not only to the campaign but also to her family.

Miller came to the United States when she was 7 years old. Her father, who migrated after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished race and national origin quotas to allow a new generation of immigrants to enter the United States, returned to India. in 1972 to tell Aruna’s grandmother, with whom Aruna lived from the age of about 1, that it was time for his daughter to join him, her mother, and two siblings in the United States.

“My dad was a stranger to me. My siblings were strangers to me, my mom, all of that,” said Miller, who also said she doesn’t remember any of her childhood in India, which she said she experienced when she left her grandmother. “That’s why I came to this country, you know what they say, a stranger in a strange land, with a strange family.”

When she got off the plane with her father by her side, she thought a crowd would greet her at the airport. She thought the snow was white confetti as part of a celebration in her honor.

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She learned English by attending public school. She graduated from Missouri University of Science and Technology thanks in part to Pell grants she received after her father lost his job disease.

“When you have an opportunity like this, you know, you have an obligation to do whatever you can to give back,” she said of her decision to work in the public sector, initially at Los Angeles County Public Works and later after that. joined her then-fiancé, David Miller, on the East Coast for a job in Montgomery County. The two have three grown daughters.

Friends and former colleagues call Miller, a politician who overcame his fear of public speaking by taking an improvisational stand-up comedy class, hilariously funny and one of the most genuine people they know.

After the state delegate resigned to run for county council, local officials encouraged Miller, then a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Party Central Committee, to run for the seat. She initially refused, but entered the race after her husband advised her to think more about it.

During her eight years in Annapolis, Mueller introduced legislation requiring universities to update sexual assault policies and a measure providing additional protections for victims of domestic violence.

Friends recall Miller’s opposition to a 2016 bill that would have barred nail salon technicians from receiving unemployment insurance. “Aruna Miller is a politician who does the right thing when no one is looking,” said Joe Gebhardt, a personal friend and political supporter.

She fought the bill, insisting that the measure was unfair, particularly to minority women.

“As scary as it was for me to step out of that comfort zone and do things I’ve never done before, searching and knocking on doors for myself … it was worth the risk,” she said.


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