The more Florida changed, the more Randy Miller stayed the same.
The longtime lobbyist didn’t look askance at big box retailers. But he did what he could to help mom-and-pop small businesses who could not match Walmart’s pricing. Over decades of study and practice, Miller built up a formidable supply of knowledge in interrelated fields, some of which quietly made their way into policy.
Miller, who led more as a guru than a gladiator, as an organization’s calm center, died Friday of COVID-19, his family said. He was 73.
As executive director of Florida’s Department of Revenue, he learned the tax codes and how these sometimes affected residents unfairly. As an independent lobbyist for decades, he knew which levers could get a piece of legislation through.
And as president and chief executive officer of the Florida Retail Federation, the position he held when he retired in 2017, Miller had risen to senior leadership positions in the state’s major business associations. Along the way he had also served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Associated Industries of Florida. Leadership suited him because he played to win yet never mistook a difficult cause for a hopeless one.
“Known as a real bulldog, Randy worked assiduously to advance and defend Florida’s retail industry,” R. Scott Shalley, Florida Retail Federation’s current president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “…That boundy of energy was matched only by the depth of his Rolodex.”
“He had a deep voice then echoed authority, and when he told you something he told it in no uncertain terms,” said Barney Bishop, a former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party who has also led Associated Industries of Florida. “He had a wealth of practical experience dealing on behalf of the business community, and that earned him the utmost respect from all of his peers.”
A lifelong Republican, he enjoyed after-hours bull sessions at the 4th Quarter Bar and Grille, arguing politics the way friends argue about sports teams. That equanimity showed up in the policies he backed.
“Randy was old school,” said Mark Wilson, whose role as executive director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce often intersected with Miller’s advocacy for retailers. “The facts matter, and what was right was right and what was wrong was wrong.”
For years, Miller led a charge against a permissive Florida tax policy that allows online shoppers not to pay sales taxes upon purchase. Buyers should pay those taxes to the IRS but few end up doing so, Wilson said.
“What was happening was, people were going into small businesses on Main Street, trying on shoes or trying on clothes and then leaving the store and ordering them online,” Wilson said. “Just because they didn’t want to have to pay the sales tax.”
For the last dozen years, advocates have pushed a bill they call Main Street Fairness to the House of Representatives, where it dies. But little by little, he said, “People know about it because of Randy’s passion for the issue.”
The same lobbyist helped close the state’s coffers to usher in the “dynamic taxing model” that allows students to buy school supplies tax-free a few days each fall.
Sometimes he has worked on projects in his free time, such as chairing an AMVETS planning committee for the Veterans Tribute Carillon Tower. The four-story structure overlooks rows of white headstones in Tallahassee National Cemetery.
Park Randall “Randy” Miller was born April 9, 1947. He grew up in Tallahassee and graduated from Florida State University in 1969 with an accounting degree, then served as an officer in the Army until 1971. In 1972 he married Wendy Lawson Burnett.
“You could just see that they really liked each other besides loving each other,” said Marian Johnson, longtime family friend. Besides working in the same field, Johnson is also 73 and recently contracted COVID-19, from which she is recovering.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” she said of the loss of her friend. “If you knew Randy, you had to love him. If you ever hear anybody say anything bad about Randy Miller, you need to check their sanity.”
In the meantime, the Main Street Fairness bill to bring Florida’s online sales tax in line with other states is on its way back to the Legislature. Some believe this could be the year it passes. Friends would like to see Miller’s name on it, a way of recognizing his commitment to small business owners.
Miller is survived by his wife, Wendy; his daughter, Holly Miller Moore, and her husband, Justin Moore; a sister, Connie Hudson, and her husband, David, and their children, Joshua and Lauren.
A funeral service starts at noon Friday (12/4) at Bevis Funeral Home, 200 John Knox Road, Tallahassee. Access a livestream through the funeral home’s website, bevisfh.com/m/obituaries/Park-Miller/MemorialEvents. A committal with military honors starts at 2 p.m. at Tallahassee National Cemetery, in the shadow of the Veterans Tribute Carillon Tower.