Ottumwa resident Mariannette Miller-Meeks hopes to fill Mark Chelgren?s Iowa Senate seat in District 41 when he steps down at the end of this year.
Chelgren announced he would not seek re-election at the Wapello County Republican Party?s county convention March 10. At that same convention, Miller-Meeks announced she would run for the office.
Iowa Senate District 41 includes all of Van Buren and Davis counties, the eastern half of Wapello County and the western half of Jefferson County.
Miller-Meeks is likely a familiar name on the ballot. She?s run for public office three times, each time trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Dave Loebsack of U.S. House District 2. Miller-Meeks ran in 2008, 2010 and 2014. The last two races were decided by 5 percentage points, but Loebsack had the edge each time.
?The biggest lesson I learned from the first race is that campaigning is very difficult,? she said. ?It requires people to do things they?re not comfortable doing, like raising money. It?s very intensive in terms of time, energy and emotion. I came away with a higher regard for people who run for office.?
Miller-Meeks took those defeats in stride, trying to learn something from each one.
?We all suffer setbacks, the question is, ?What can I learn from this?? It doesn?t define who I am as a person,? she said.
She said it was a valuable lesson for her children to see their mother take a risk by going after a goal.
Miller-Meeks grew up all over the United States since her father was a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and the family was always on the move. She left home at age 16 to attend college, hoping to be a doctor. She was accustomed to doing things at an early age. She got her first job at 13 picking cucumbers in south Texas.
She started at San Antonio Junior College, where she spent two years before enlisting in the U.S. Army at 18 to be a nurse. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1986, and came to the University of Iowa in 1988 to do ophthalmology. She has lived in Iowa ever since.
Journey into politics
Miller-Meeks?s son did an internship with Sen. Chuck Grassley, and he encouraged her to try her hand at politics. Loebsack had defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, a Republican, in 2006. She had just finished her stint as the first female president of the Iowa Medical Society, and was concerned about the direction of health care in the country.
?My son told me, ?You?re smart enough, Mom. You could be in Congress.? So I decided I would run,? she said.
In 2011, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Miller-Meeks director of the Iowa Public Health Department, a position she held until 2014. She stepped down from her role to focus on her campaign against Loebsack.
?As director of public health, I learned that bureaucracy has a tremendous amount of influence over making laws,? she said.
Miller-Meeks addressed a number of problems during her tenure as director, such as several food borne illness crises and the floods that affected southwest Iowa in 2011.
Miller-Meeks heard rumors late last year that Chelgren would not seek re-election. After a concerted effort to encourage him to run again, it became evident that he needed to concentrate on his businesses. Miller-Meeks contemplated running for the seat.
She spoke with other State Senators and her husband. On the day of the county convention, she made her decision.
Due to her background in public health, Miller-Meeks hopes she will be put on the health and human services committee if she is elected. She?d also like to be on appropriations because she feels she understands budgeting after working in a state office.
?I also serve on Wapello County Veterans Affairs,? she said. ?I?m a veteran; my husband is a veteran; and six of my siblings have served in the armed forces.?
Miller-Meeks said she want to follow in Grassley?s footsteps in rooting out fraud in government and holding people accountable.
?I?m also interested in workforce development and job creation,? she said. ?We have an educated, skilled workforce able to attract business to this area.?
The primary election for Iowa Senate District 41 is June 5.