For the first time in two decades, Fran Millar will not be headed this month to the State Capitol, ready to begin another legislative session. Instead, he’ll be wearing a pair of swim trunks and sitting on a beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands with other tourists seeking escape from their everyday lives.
Don’t let that sunny image fool you, though. Millar would rather be sporting a tie and khakis and be seated in the Senate chamber listening for the hammer of the gavel to start another 40 days of debating policy and voting on bills.
“When you do something for 20 years, you don’t just turn the switch,” he said while sipping a latte from an oversized mug a few days after the New Year at Crema Espresso Gourmet shop on Mount Vernon Road.
Millar served in the state House from 1999-2011 and then in the state Senate from 2011 through this month when his term officially ended. He lost his first race ever on Nov. 6 to Democrat Sally Harrell in an election largely defined by anti-Trump sentiment, changing demographics in the affluent suburbs, and overwhelming Democrat voter turnout spurred by Stacey Abrams’ historic bid for governor.
He said he has no plans to run for another elected office and is still searching for what to do in this next phase of his life. He has a Dunwoody office he goes to every day and works on finding online purchasing packages for clients like Piedmont Healthcare.
Millar plays golf, likes jigsaw puzzles and has five grandchildren living in Dunwoody to keep him busy. His dream right now is to work for the Georgia Board of Regents, where his experience as chair of the state Higher Education Committee could be useful, he said. He’s also a member of the Southern Regional Education Board.
“You have to have reason to get up in the morning, so I have to see what that’s going to be going forward,” he said.
“I’m a person of faith and believe things happen for reason. I’ve still got my brains, and the opportunity to do something worthwhile,” he added. “Time will tell.”
‘It was a tsunami’
The sting of defeat is still palpable two months after Nov. 6, Millar acknowledged. At 10 minutes to midnight on Election Night, he was down by only 400 votes and three weeks of Dunwoody’s early voting ballots were yet to be counted. Polling by his campaign also had him in a slight lead.
But then the numbers rolled in and Harrell got 16,000 early votes to Millar’s 10,000, resulting in a final tally of 40,956 to 33,842, or 54.7 percent to 45.2 percent.
“I got waxed by 6,000 [early] votes,” he said. “I have to give credit to Sally for running a good campaign.”
Although Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp in a squeaker of a race, many political pundits, including Millar, agree her campaign pushed many down-ticket Democrats over the finish line to victory. Nowhere was that truer than in north Fulton and DeKalb counties, he said, where Democrats won traditional Republican strongholds not only in Dunwoody, but in Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Buckhead.
“This year it wasn’t a wave in the metro area, it was tsunami,” Millar said.
That tsunami included thousands of voters from apartment complexes, where Democrats spent significant resources in their get-out-the-vote efforts, Millar said. Two years ago, during the presidential election, 75,000 votes were cast in his district that includes Dunwoody and portions of Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Gwinnett County. During last year’s midterm election, he expected maybe 60,000 people would vote in his district. But the final number was again 75,000.
The political truth now, Millar said, is that Republicans in metro Atlanta can no longer depend on single-family homeowners to win elections. Later, he added that what he meant was actually code for white single-family homeowners.
As new people continue to move to Georgia, Republicans have to find issues that matter to Asians, Latinos and women, he said.
“You’re not going to win over people coming to this state with guns and abortion,” he said.
The Trump factor
Another major factor in his loss, according to Millar, is that many Republican women stayed home. When 55 percent of college-educated women can determine an election, this factor was significant, he said.
“People came up to my wife, people came up to me, to say, ‘I don’t think I can vote for you because of Donald Trump,’” Millar said.
Millar, a 69-year-old lifelong Republican who backed John Kasich in the presidential primary two years ago, said he voted for Trump because he wanted him to select the next Supreme Court justices. He said he tried to stave off anti-Trump sentiment from affecting his campaign too much by telling voters he applauded most of the president’s policies but didn’t condone his behavior.
“But it didn’t matter … because I’m a Republican,” he said. He added he is probably ready for Vice President Mike Pence to become president in 2020.
“Because I’ve probably had enough,” he said. “Give [Trump] four years. Maybe he’ll be bored. Maybe he’ll be impeached by the House.”
Kemp’s decision to tie himself closely to Trump — including a primary ad where he boasted about his “big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself” — likely turned off many metro Atlanta voters who may have supported Millar.
But Millar stressed he supported Kemp’s campaign because he did what he had to do in rural Georgia to win. “And you can’t do anything without a majority,” Millar said.
“To me, it’s a lot more important that Brian Kemp is governor of this state than Fran Millar getting re-elected, because I believe this election was about capitalism versus socialism,” he said.
“I don’t believe you can have free everything,” he said, noting Abrams promised to expand Medicaid and make college free to some.
“I come from a world of innovation and entrepreneurship, where you are rewarded for the effort you put forward, not that anybody owes you these things,” he said.
On race and being called a racist
Millar then recalled one of his infamous quotes that made national headlines and tagged him a racist. In a 2014 Facebook post, Millar blasted Lee May, DeKalb County’s interim CEO at the time, for holding early voting on a Sunday at South DeKalb Mall. The mall attracts mostly African-American shoppers and is near several large African-American churches. Millar implied early voting there would benefit Democrats Jason Carter in the governor’s race and Michelle Nunn in the U.S. Senate race.
A few lines later, Millar wrote he “would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”
Millar said he was not being racist with the statement and stands by what he said to this day.
“We are not informed on the issues in this country,” he said. “I would venture to say 20 percent of the people I represent believe I go to Washington, D.C.”
Millar is also renowned for his 2017 comment during the heated and expensive race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel for the 6th Congressional District. The seat became open after Tom Price was tapped by Trump to be the U.S. secretary of health and human services. Price resigned eight months later after a scandal broke out for his use of chartered flights.
“I’ll be very blunt: These lines were not drawn to get Hank Johnson’s protégé to be my representative. And you didn’t hear that,” Millar said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, of the 6th Congressional District. “They were not drawn for that purpose, OK? They were not drawn for that purpose.”
Handel won the special election but then had to run again in November, losing to Democrat Lucy McBath.
The quote was “true statement,” Millar said, because he helped draw the congressional district’s lines to take north DeKalb out of Hank Johnson and Cynthia McKinney’s area. He doesn’t know what the future holds with McBath in the seat.
“Was it partisan? Yes. Was it legal by the courts? Yes. Am I without blame? No,” he said.
He also fended off criticism that the redistricting was racist.
“Race has never been an issue for me,” Millar answered. Price, he said, better represented his values and the values of those living in north DeKalb. He said he believes Johnson is a “socialist” who never worked across the aisle.
Millar also said he has good relationships with black Democratic lawmakers, including DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond.
But, he added, there comes a point when some people “like him say enough is enough” when it comes to raising the issue of race.
“This isn’t the ’60s or even the ’50s. We’re all for equal opportunity, but don’t try to throw the sins of the past on me, whether you’re Irish or black,” he said. “I get tired … Don’t play the race card as an excuse.”
The high points
Millar said he is proud of his service on the Higher Education committee and the bill he got passed through state Senate last year to fund testing school children for dyslexia.
His support in the House and Senate for new cities including Dunwoody and Brookhaven are proud moments for Millar. He notes he received the Thurgood Marshall award from DeKalb NAACP for his role in changing the Georgia flag to remove Confederate symbols.
Another controversial social issue state lawmakers continue to deal with is LGBT equality. In 2004, Millar supported the referendum to change the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which was overwhelmingly supported by voters. The law was overturned in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage.
Millar said because of his faith as an active member of Dunwoody United Methodist Church, he does not support same-sex marriage, regardless of the SCOTUS ruling. He said he tried to “tread the middle ground” on the controversial “religious freedom” bills because he said he doesn’t believe in discrimination. The bills continue to be introduced by legislators despite a veto by Gov. Nathan Deal, but Millar predicts they will continue to get nowhere in the upcoming session.