Businessman Chris Miller discusses transparency, future plans, and his bid to be West Virginia’s next Governor

By Matthew Young, RealWV

“People are dying for leadership, and they’re dying for that energy. They’re dying for that excitement. Everybody wants to do the right thing at the end of the day, and the right thing is to save the State of West Virginia and show the rest of the world what we’re capable of.”

That’s what businessman Chris Miller told RealWV about the motivations behind his bid to be the Mountain State’s next Governor. As we continue our series of conversations with Republican gubernatorial candidates, RealWV spoke with Miller in an effort to provide readers with insight into his background, qualifications, and vision for West Virginia’s future before making their choice for the state’s next chief executive. 

“I’m a fighter,” the 44-year-old Miller said. “I’m a boxer and a fighter. That’s something that separates me from everybody else: I know what it’s like to get in the ring and actually handle risks.”

Miller referenced the ongoing opioid epidemic as being the first of many fights worth winning.

“That’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart,” Miller said. “My first year of marriage, I was stuck in between chasing drugs and alcohol, and my wife. And I’ve been sober since April 1, 2004 from alcohol and opiates.”

“It matters,” Miller added. “There’s not a family that it (opioid epidemic) hasn’t touched in West Virginia. It crosses all social and economic boundaries, and we were close to losing an entire generation of people. We are on the tail end of that, but it’s got to be a priority to rehabilitate our people.”

Miller, who hopes others can benefit from his experiences, noted, “One of the things that drives me crazy about how we pick people for office is that we don’t really know who these people are – you don’t know what’s in their heart. I don’t think we’re transparent and open enough about who we are as people.”

Both a husband and father, Miller is also the son of West Virginia Congresswoman Carol Miller, and the grandson of former Ohio Congressman Samuel Devine. However, despite his familial ties to a burgeoning political dynasty, Miller cut his teeth on his family’s bison farm, and sowed his oats in the business world.

“This ‘politics’ stuff is quite frankly nonsense,” Miller said. “The world that I live in is problem-solution, opportunity-execution.”

Now the head of The Dutch Miller Auto Group, as well as more than 20 other businesses employing some 650 people, Miller hopes to honor his family’s legacy by carving a new path en route to his own political future.

“I’m the only person in the field who has grown a business empire and employed a lot of people, and survived the private sector by creating jobs,” Miller said. “I’m the only one who’s done that. That is a differentiator – that matters. There’s probably nothing more conservative in nature than that right there.”

Miller says that it’s time to move beyond “the ‘good ol’ boy system’ that’s run our state for far too long.”

“Anybody who knows me will tell you that I’m not like those other people at all,” Miller said. “I’m really headstrong and hardworking, and very determined. I’m wanting to take this thing on because it’s the right thing to do – it’s a leadership function.”

“We live in a world of systems, and the people who figure out how to navigate their way through those systems are the ones that wind up being the most successful,” Miller continued. “It doesn’t matter what that system is – capitalism, socialism, oligarchies, whatever it is – you just have to figure out how to navigate through them.”

“If I want to make a real impact on the lives of the people of West Virginia, this (politics) is just the system I’ve got to deal with,” Miller added. 

It is Miller’s background outside of politics that he believes makes him the most qualified candidate to be Governor. 

“The state has a major financial problem coming,” Miller said. “It’s abundantly clear to me that we need our best and brightest on the field to fix the problem, and also take advantage of the incredible opportunity that is in front of us. In all honesty, the state is in a great spot right now. Some of that has to do with what (Gov. Jim) Justice has done, and some of it has to do with what the legislature has done. So we have this rare window where we can do something fantastic. But at the same time, the real problems are coming, and they’re layered, and they’re financial.”

Miller cited the state’s 40-year population-decline, rising medium-age of residents, and a “swelling” DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources) budget as precursors to what he calls “the perfect storm.” Miller believes that these factors will negatively impact West Virginia’s bond rating, resulting in “dramatically” increased costs of governmental-operations. 

“We don’t have a productive tax base below it (government) to justify its big, bloated existence,” Miller explained. “That’s when the tail spin starts.”

Miller says the solution lies in understanding the data. 

“We’re in the beginning stages of a demographic shift in our country,” Miller said. “It’s not as simple as California to Texas, or New York and New Jersey to Florida – it’s cultural, economic, social, and political. As it turns out, West Virginia has what people are looking for. We have a high quality of life, and we have a low cost of living.”

“When we locked a bunch of people down in urban areas (during the COVID pandemic), surrounded by concrete – they couldn’t go to the gym, and get their haircut, and see their friends and family, and had difficulty with access to healthcare – it made people really uneasy,” Miller continued. “And when the Antifa/Black Lives Matter rioting started happening, it made people [even more] uneasy.”

“It turns out, based on the data, people are looking for conservative, family-oriented types of lifestyles again,” Miller added. “They want to be in an area where they can walk down the street and know four out of the ten people they pass. It’s kind of like they’re looking for Mayberry, and it matches up with what West Virginia is – we’ve got great people.”

“There’s a long-term play here,” Miller added. “Everything we do is going to be about energy. We’ve got an abundance of coal and natural gas, and we’ve got this incredible amount of water that passes through our state. When you add it all up, we can turn West Virginia into the power plant of the east coast. We could not only export our power, but we could drive down the cost of power for our people.”

To “avert a financial catastrophe,” Miller further explained, West Virginia must not only stop the population decline, but bring in some 200,000 new residents. And, according to Miller, a politician is the wrong person to market the state to would-be transplants.

“We could be the state in the Union with the cheapest power in the country,” Miller said. “We could use that as the foundation for economic growth and development. Businesses will come to us because of that – capital flows like water to the places that it’s most welcome. We’ve been extracted for way too long. I think it’s about time that we leverage our resources to do something good for our people.”

“I think we need to run state government more like a business,” Miller noted. “Audit every dime that’s spent, and use this financial catastrophe that’s coming as an opportunity to fix the culture of government. I believe the taxpayers are the customers, and it should be the government’s job to treat the taxpayers like customers and do everything that they can to make their lives better.”

“One of the most important things that we can do is break up that ‘good ol’ boy’ system,” Miller continued. “People are dying for that. I’m sick of sitting behind the scenes and saying, ‘Well, that was dumb – why are we cutting that bad deal?’ It’s that incestious good ol’ boy system that is not the right thing for the customer. They don’t represent us the right way, and we end up paying all the taxes for the state while these big outside businesses get exempt from them, and it doesn’t do anybody any good.”

In order to run West Virginia like a business, Miller explained, “I believe we need to define ‘profit’ as the livelihood and wellbeing of all of the citizens.”

“Right now we’re last in education,” Miller said. “We’re last in economic opportunity, we’re last in literacy, we’re last in just about everything you can measure a state in. We learned from President (Donald) Trump that if you start running things like a business and making decisions based on everyone, and getting the most out of what you’re doing, that’s when good results start happening.”

“Quite frankly, the challenges that we’re facing are not for bureaucrats and politicians to handle and fix because they’re directly related to economics,” Miller added. “There is no one better to be the chief executive officer of a state than someone who has taken risks and grown businesses, and signs the front of paychecks every single day.”

To be an effective Governor, Miller says he will be both leader, and collaborator.

“You have to have somebody who is willing to be on the ground working with the Legislature every day,” Miller said. “You have to explain to them what’s happening, but also be encouraging and motivating. You also have to be collaborative, because you have to have ideas from everyone. The best ideas should win – it shouldn’t be a dictatorship, and it shouldn’t just be a Legislature making all the decisions. It should be us all working together to do something fantastic.”

“I would be the greatest promoter in the history of West Virginia, because I would sell our state every single day to everybody around us, and explain to them how fantastic we are,” Miller added. 

Primary Election Day in West Virginia is Tuesday, May 14. Early in-person voting begins on Wednesday, May 1. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, April 23. 

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