Born on February 1, 1943 in Boston, MA, Mark is the first of five children born to Edward and Elizabeth ("Scooner") Miller. The family moved to Wisconsin several years later, when Mark's father joined the physics department at UW-Madison. Mark and his four siblings spent their childhood years roaming the woods behind their Middleton house.
Mark's mother, affectionately known by her maiden name Scooner, died of breast cancer in 1961, when he was 18 years old. With four younger siblings, Mark stayed close to home for college, attending and graduating from the UW-Madison. In 1967, the Miller family expanded when Mark's father, Ed Miller who was still a physics professor at UW-Madison, married UW Dean of Students Midge Leeper, a widow with four children of her own.
Although it would be years before Mark would run for political office, the union of Ed and Midge played an important role as Midge became an iconic Wisconsin state representative. After founding the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm in 1968, Midge served in the Wisconsin Assembly from 1971-85, believing in Wisconsin’s
“great progressive tradition that governing involved moral choices and that, while there was always a place for negotiation, and sometimes a place for compromise, there was never an excuse for going along to get along. The point of progressive public service, argued Midge Miller, was not to be a cog in the machine run by corporate and political elites. It was to make the machine work for the people.”
(J. Nichols, Mark Miller’s politics of the people, Cap. Times, Feb. 19, 2012). Midge’s view that politics was a machine meant to work for the people made a lasting impression on Mark.
In 1966, Mark joined the Air National Guard. On December 28, 1968, during one of the worst snowstorms to hit the city of Chicago, Mark married Josephine (“Jo”) Oyama, a second-generation Japanese-American from Chicago and fellow student from UW-Madison. The newlyweds moved to Selma, Alabama where Mark completed flight school and where despite the Supreme Court’s recent ruling declaring state anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, Alabama law still prohibited inter-racial marriages, such as theirs. As a pilot in the Air National Guard from 1966 until he retired as a Lt. Colonel in 1995, Mark flew a variety of jets including F102, O2A, OA37, and the infamously ugly, but difficult to shoot down A-10 "Warthog."
During the 1970s and 1980s, Mark also owned and operated a real estate property management company, while he and Jo were raising their three children—Chandra, Keiko and Sterling—in Monona. Today, Mark and Jo’s family includes their children’s spouses, Mike Fienen, Chance Veasey and Emi Hibino, as well as three beloved grandchildren: Kaiya & Leo (children of Keiko and Chance) in Minneapolis, and Geneva (daughter of Sterling and Emi) in Pasadena.
In 1996, Mark was elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors. He served two terms, stepping down in 2000. In 1998, he was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly where he represented the 48th AD for three terms until he was elected to the State Senate in 2004. He was re-elected in 2008. From 2007-2011, Mark served as Senate Caucus Chairperson, until he was elected Minority Leader in January 2011. In February 2011, Mark became a national political figure when he and 13 senate democratic colleagues left the state to prevent Governor Walker's Budget Repair Bill, which included removing public employee's ability to bargain collectively, from being pushed through without adequate time for public comment. In March 2012, the Senate became even divided at 16-16, making Mark the Democratic Senate Leader.
As a legislator, Mark has championed and led the effort to pass some of Wisconsin's most significant legislation, including:
- Health care reform (Healthy Wisconsin)
- Green Tier (2004) and electronic recycling (2009) legislation
- the Great Lakes compact (2008)
Despite his strong progressive outlook, Mark holds fast to his belief that in order for politics to work for the people, politicians have to listen to each other and work together to find common ground. Throughout his career, Mark has consistently reached across the aisle and listened to his colleagues on both sides of the political divide to find practical and reasonable solutions. John Nichols described Mark as:
“a passionate believer in the legislative process, and as such he has long been the chamber’s foremost proponent of reasoned dialogue, cross-party cooperation and respect for the rules of the chamber.”
(J. Nichols, Miller’s leadership is renewing Wisconsin, Cap. Times, Feb. 22, 2012).