DES MOINES | Two-time Republican congressional candidate Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks has submitted her resignation as director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, and GOP operatives say she is primed for another campaign for the U.S. House.
Miller-Meeks' last day will be Jan. 17. Gerd Clabaugh, who currently serves as the department's deputy director, has been named the interim director of the state public health department.
Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist from Ottumwa, said she resigned because she is exploring several opportunities in the medical field and she is weighing running for the second district congressional seat, which is currently held by Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, of Iowa City.
She said it is not fair to the position to be distracted, particularly heading into the legislative session.
"I’m being heavily recruited to run for Congress and, yes, it is something that I’m considering," Miller-Meeks said.
Miller-Meeks said she's been considering stepping down for the past six months and she did so in consultation with Gov. Terry Branstad, who named her to the public health post shortly after he was elected in 2010.
Two Republican operatives say another congressional run is all but certain.
Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said Miller-Meeks told the governor she intends to run for the second district seat.
Acting Johnson County GOP chairman Bill Keettel said when asked if Republicans are expecting a congressional run that "that is fair to say, but I prefer she make the announcement."
"I think it is pretty obvious she is going to have a further announcement after the 17th commenting about her further public service," Keettel said. "Why would she resign as Iowa public health director where she was doing a wonderful job if it weren't to pursue some other objective?"
Thus far, Mark Lofgren, of Muscatine, and Matthew C. Waldren, of Eddyville, have filed paperwork, he said.
Miller-Meeks has lost twice to Loebsack, by 18 percentage points in 2008, and 5 percentage points in 2010. She did not run in 2012.
The resignation announcement comes days after a news report that Miller-Meeks made unfounded claims last fall that Mountain Dew was the most popular food stamp item in Iowa.
Political opponents criticized it as a politically motivated statement, a claim Miller-Meeks denied and said through a spokesperson she regretted the miss-communication.
Democrats were quick to connect her departure to the incident.
Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scot Brennan said in a statement that her "resignation is past due." Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state senator Jack Hatch said the resignation "puts the spotlight on Gov. Branstad’s irresponsible decision to hire department heads who are more concerned with political ideology than doing the business of Iowans."
While Miller-Meeks received backlash, she said her resignation was "absolutely not" precipitated by her comments.
"My resignation was voluntary, it was reluctantly accepted but graciously accepted," she told The Gazette.
Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds made the announcement that her resignation had been accepted on Thursday morning.
“It is with regret that I accept Mariannette’s resignation, as she was a director who served with great passion,” Branstad said. “Mariannette has been a champion of health in Iowa, including working to promote our Healthiest State Initiative. Lieutenant Governor Reynolds and I thank her for her service to the people of Iowa.”
Bureau reporter Rod Boshart contributed to this report