Well, it wasn’t exactly the red carpet.

When Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks arrived in Washington, D.C. in 2021 to claim her seat in Congress, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s warm welcome was a threat that she might expel Miller-Meeks and send her back to Iowa.

Miller-Meeks won by six votes, one of the narrowest victories in American history. Her opponent challenged the win, and with Pelosi holding a mere eight-seat advantage, members on both sides of the aisle held their breaths. In the end, Miller-Meeks prevailed and went on to be re-elected last year.  

Nancy Pelosi did not scare Miller-Meeks, who during her time in electoral limbo “remained upbeat and pleasant. And so, people would stop me in the hallways and ask me why I was so upbeat. Was it stressful? Certainly. It was stressful for me and my family. But whether I was in Congress for one day or 365 days, I was going to work for the district, and that’s what I did. All that time, I was working to pass bills.”

Since coming to Congress, Miller-Meeks has established a record as a staunch conservative. She joined all other congressional Republicans to vote against the Biden administration’s American Rescue Act and has co-sponsored a bill to protect the Second Amendment rights of tenants. The Preserving Rights of Tenants by Ensuring Compliance, or the PROTECT Bill, recognizes that, in a time of rising crime, many tenants want to be able to defend themselves.

A physician, Miller-Meeks, who has advocated repeal of the Affordable Care Act and work requirements for Medicaid, introduced legislation for Medicare treatment of obesity and another to expand cancer coverage. Why, Miller-Meeks is asked, should the taxpayer be asked to foot the bills for somebody else’s obesity?

“Well,” she replies, “I think because we’re already spending money for individuals that develop type 2 diabetes related to obesity, or hypertension related to obesity. We know that there are significant health risks and morbidities that occur with obesity. And by this, I don’t mean anybody should be fat-shamed. I don’t agree with that. People can be overweight but be healthy, depending upon the amount of exercise and the type of food that they eat, the amount of sleep that they get, but I do think we need to look at whether, as a nation, we’re encouraging people to exercise more, to add plants to their diet, to have smaller portions. We pay for obesity already in Medicare; we pay for it in the exchanges where we subsidize health insurance, and we pay for it in Medicaid.”

Mariannette grew up the daughter of a master sergeant in the Air Force, who often took on extra jobs, and a mother who did not have a high school diploma but also worked various jobs to support the large family of eight children. Mariannette was the fourth child. Her dream of entering the medical profession grew out of a near tragedy when she was severely burned in a kitchen grease fire as a teenager.

“At the time of the accident,” she recalls, “my father was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. It was a snow day, the older kids had cooked lunch for the younger ones. My brother had been out playing in the snow and came in late and didn’t get lunch. So, he decided he would cook some bacon in a cast iron skillet that we had cooked potatoes in, so there was still grease in it. He burned the bacon, it caught the pan on fire, and I smelled the smoke, went into the kitchen, and tried to put it out with the little braided rug, almost got it out, but wasn’t completely successful, and the kitchen went up in flames and my younger brother and I were burned.

“It was a very long hospitalization and we were in isolation,” she continues, “which made it even more difficult, more challenging. The treatment for burns is very painful. They were very fearful for our lives. I remember that I could hear my brother screaming all the way down the hall when he came back from physical therapy. But our physical therapist was so kind, and I knew that the treatments, painful as they were, were helping us. I wanted to help people like she helped people. So, when I got out of the hospital, and my parents brought me in the house, I told them I was going to be a doctor.”

It was not that simple. Although the Millers wanted the best for their children, there was no way they could not pay for college followed by medical school. Mariannette knew it was up to her if she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. “I left home at 16, started at San Antonio Community College, got a job, matter of fact, never graduated high school, but I just started at community college,” she recalls for IWF. “I kept working and going to school. I enlisted in the Army and did clerical work at night. I kept working and going to school until I got a master’s in education. I was able to go to med school, spent twenty-four years in military active duty and then reserve, and ultimately retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Army Reserve.”

During Miller-Meeks’ 24 years in the military, she served as a private, nurse, and doctor (ophthalmologist or eye diseases/surgery).

During Miller-Meeks’ 24 years in the military, she served as a private, nurse, and doctor (ophthalmologist or eye diseases/surgery). “When I went to medical school, I did not know I would go into ophthalmology,” she recalls. “I had done emergency room. I had been a med-surg nurse. I had worked in the operating room as a certified nurse, and I really liked surgery. I knew I wanted to do something surgical, but I also knew that I wanted to get married and have a family. You have to decide what you want to do in your third year, and my peers said you should do ophthalmology. I loved neurosurgery and I tutored neuroscience in med school, and I thought, well, the eyes have the cranial nerves. So, that’s kind of like doing neuro.”

While she was assigned to Walter Reed Hospital, she met an active-duty Army nurse named Curt Meeks. He was an enlisted, licensed practical nurse. They started going out together. “And he got an Article 15 for dating me, it’s a reprimand,” she says, laughing. “We framed it and used to have it hanging on the wall.” 

Undeterred, they continued dating and were married in 1983. They have two children, a son and a daughter, named Jonathan and Taylor. Curt, a lawyer, set up the compliance programs at the local hospital and the FQHC River Hills Health Center before retiring to hike the Appalachian Trail. He has hiked the trail twice and has plans to do it again.

What does Miller-Meeks think of our woke military?

“I think that our military is completely focused on the wrong things,” she replies. “In the military, you need to be focused on your critical mission. And that’s to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It should be focused on training. When the military is focused on social-cultural policies, it’s not focused on the leadership style or cohesion within a unit. It ends up creating problems. And remember that a large number of people who go into the military are from families that have a tradition of serving.

“When we have military families telling their children not to go in the military, that is a problem because the majority of our military strength now comes from legacy families, families where grandfathers, uncles, aunts, you know, parents, have served in the military and then their children go into the military. And when they lose faith in the military, when they don’t see that there’s advancement for their children in the military, then that creates a problem. The other thing that hurts was the disastrous, incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

After retiring from active-duty military, Miller-Meeks went into private practice in ophthalmology in her hometown of Ottumwa. She served as president of the Iowa Medical Society and on the faculty of the University of Iowa. She led the Iowa Department of Public Health for three years. But she was always drawn to politics.

Her dream of entering the medical profession grew out of a near tragedy when she was severely burned in a kitchen grease fire as a teenager.

She served one term in the Iowa State Senate. As for her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, in a display of fortitude, she ran three times, in 2008, 2010, and 2014, before she won on the fourth try. Why did she run—and continue to run in the face of setbacks? “I ran for Congress for a very simple reason,” she explains. “Number one, I fervently believe in the American dream. And I think that we should want to continue to help people no matter what their background is, no matter what their color is, no matter who they are, regardless of their ethnicity or social class, if they have the talent and they’re willing to work. We need to help people up the ladder. So, that’s number one.

“Number two is I believe in a healthcare system that is non-socialized medicine, because I think it provides the best advances in health care, the most cures in health care, and it gives people the most choice. I don’t think that unelected bureaucrats or people who don’t have medical knowledge can make decisions for you in your lifetime. Socialized medicine doesn’t create a system of innovation, cures, or a system that personalizes care for the people that it’s supposed to deliver care to. So, I was very afraid that if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama was elected president, given what Hillary Clinton had done before, that we would go to a socialized medical care system.”

“So, without having ever run for elected office before, I decided to run for Congress. So, that’s what I did. I would not advise anybody to do what I did. It was a little bit backwards. I didn’t win but I did get to meet Governor, now Ambassador, Terry Branstad, who asked me to be his director of public health, and I was director of public health from 2011 to 2014. And then Governor Kim Reynolds asked me if I would run for a State Senate seat. I resisted until six months before the election and then said, if it’ll help my governor to be elected the first woman governor, then I’ll run for the Senate seat. And I won against someone that had been running for two years, or almost two years. She had been running since Donald Trump was elected. So, I won the Senate seat, and then became chair of human services, which is our largest committee, and was honored to be able to be the chair, and we passed some very good healthcare policy during that time.

“And then I was asked to run for Congress and it was a very tough decision to run again for the fourth time, knowing I would have a primary. But then also because I so enjoyed my senate colleagues. I had great colleagues in the Senate. We were passing very good healthcare policy. So, it was tough to give that up to run for Congress. But I think that I’m a person of service and I think that I’m doing some good by serving our state and our nation’s capital.”

Most people would have said three counts and I’m out. Not Miller-Meeks. “My children will say that I make lemonade out of lemons,’ she says, “and I think there are bad things that happen in life to everyone, and there are bumps in the road, and things don’t always go the way we want. Not everybody has the smoothest pathway. There are hurdles and obstacles, and it’s how you respond to those obstacles that creates success—and I don’t mean just financial success, I mean personal success. And it also creates character.”

It certainly does, and not only her constituents but all Americans can be glad that Miller-Meeks persevered over her own obstacles, since she has exactly the kind of character we need in Washington.