The Ottumwa Courier

January 10, 2014

To run or not to run

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Iowa's director of public health has stepped down to consider trying a step up.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced Thursday that he'd accepted the resignation of Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

"It's a matter of timeliness [since] we needed time to explore options [including] a potential run for a Congressional seat," she told the Courier late Thursday after arriving home from Iowa's Capital.

There's more to making that decision than some may realize, she said.For one thing, she needs to consult with potential donors and see whether they would support her bid for Congress. Having run twice and lost, she said, gives her a different perspective, perhaps even a better perspective, on what she needs to do in order to make sure she's prepared.

She needs to know if there is support among voters for what she called "the grassroots" portion of the effort. Will the Republican party back her? If she's been touched by controversy, should she still campaign? These are questions she'll be getting answers to in the near future.

The "controversy" appeared to stem from an effort by media outlets to explain the director's "abrupt" departure from her post. No reason had been given in the initial press release. However, she is still in the job until Jan. 17. News reports Thursday pointed to recent interviews where Miller-Meeks was asked about a remark she made at a nutrition conference in Des Moines.

"I was asked to speak about nutrition" in reference to food aid, she recalled Thursday evening. She acknowledges that she raised the concern that with a check from the WIC program, there are nutritional guidelines. For food stamps, she suggested, perhaps we should put some rules in place that will help recipients avoid health concerns like obesity.

"You could ask yourself, who is it that would be offended by that?" Miller-Meeks said.

In regards to her food conference remarks, the Associated Press reported that Miller-Meeks was "recently criticized ... [when she] stated that the top item people are buying with food stamps in Iowa" is Mountain Dew.

Critics, including at least one leader within the Democratic party, said that since the state does not specifically track food stamp purchases, the doctor provided inaccurate data.

Later on Thursday, the AP reported that Branstad said Miller-Meeks stepped down in order to make a run for Congress. He also updated reporters by saying he did not seek her resignation and that it had nothing to do with the Mountain Dew remark.

— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark