'Milestone of Achievement' on the Hill
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
At 6 feet 2 inches tall, Lorraine C. Miller cuts a striking figure in the polished hallways of the U.S. Capitol. Last week, the woman with regal bearing gained another, more lasting distinction. She was sworn in as clerk of the House of Representatives, the first African American to hold the seat since it was created in 1789.
"This is another milestone of achievement, not just of black people but of all people," said Thomas Tyler, who directs the senior choir at the Shiloh Baptist Church in the District, where Miller sings first alto.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tapped Miller for the job, citing her work ethic, knowledge of the Hill and ability to make connections across party lines, in addition to her trailblazer status.
"I was the first woman, and I had a responsibility to do other firsts," Pelosi said at a recent reception honoring Miller. "I've done a lot of things since I became speaker, but none have given me more pride and been more thrilling to me than to swear in Lorraine Miller."
Miller had been among Pelosi's senior advisers. After the Democrats won control of Congress in November and it was clear that Pelosi would ascend to the House speaker's job, members of her staff began lobbying for various appointments. All except Miller.
"I sought her out and asked if she wanted the job," Pelosi said. "That speaks to her modesty, that she didn't put her name out, that I had to ask her if she was interested."
She was, of course.
The clerk runs the day-to-day operations of the House of Representatives, handling everything from stationery supplies to the voting process on the House floor to managing the page program. She said she intends to put special focus on the page program, which has been plagued by scandal, with former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigning after sending inappropriate computer messages to male former pages.
The nonpartisan office oversees nine divisions that employ 276 people. It pays $163,700 a year and comes with one of the best offices in the Capitol, boasting a commanding view of the Mall and the Washington Monument.
But Miller's rise to become an officer of the House did not begin with great promise.
She started her working life as a high school government teacher in Fort Worth. She was more intrigued by politics than teaching, however, and once a year for 10 years she wrote to then-Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and inquired about openings on his staff. Each time, she received a standard rejection letter.
Eventually, she moved to Washington, enrolled in a graduate program at American University and campaigned until she landed a job in Wright's office. "She doesn't take no for an answer, so you might as well save time" is how Pelosi described Miller's tenacity.