Daily Iowan: Q&A with congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks, "I'm nobody's puppet"
By: Shawn Gude - The Daily Iowan
At this weekend's Iowa-Iowa State game, amid a sea of red, yellow, and black T-shirts; Bud Lights and Busch Lights; and umbrellas and ponchos, sat a white-and-light-blue-striped ambulance. The vehicle, parked in a lot at Kinnick Stadium, is a prop for the Mariannette Miller-Meeks for Congress campaign, whose slogan is: "Healing Iowans, Healing Congress." A blue rain tent was attached to the ambulance, shielding the candidate, staffers, and the free food from the morning rain. Pastry in one hand, the tailgating Ottumwa doctor - the Republican challenger to Rep. Dave Loebsack - spoke with The Daily Iowan.
DI: Three months after you won the Republican primary, how would you evaluate your campaign and the progress you're making?
Miller-Meeks: We continue to gather support in all counties. We see a lot of momentum in our direction, and we're just not hearing a lot from the incumbent.
DI: A month and a half out from the election, how do you feel about your chances?
Miller-Meeks: I feel like the Hawkeyes' chances to win this game - very good.
DI: You do have a lot going against you. You have the money gap [Loebsack has about $470,000 on hand, while Miller-Meeks has a little over $5,000, according to the most recent data], you're a Republican in a Democratic year, and you're going up against an incumbent. What do you have to do to overcome that, and how hard do you think it's going to be to overcome that?
Miller-Meeks: I think anything worthwhile doing requires a sacrifice and takes hard work, and I am known for my work ethic. He has more money; I've got more shoes. I'm wearing out the shoe leather meeting voters. We don't see him anywhere. We don't see people energized for his campaign. We were just at a Farm Bureau forum, and there's just not momentum there, there's not people talking about him. We get more people talking negatively about him than we do supportive of him. Usually the incumbent should have a pretty high name recognition by this point in time, and we don't find that to be true.
DI: Do you think the money advantage is overblown?
Miller-Meeks: I think the media uses markers for campaigns. One of them is money. I think that's a poor marker. They underestimate Iowa voters. Iowa voters are looking at the issues, and they're looking at the candidates. When they look at an incumbent, they say, "What has the incumbent done for me?" And so far, he's voted 98 percent of the time with his party. They want to know, are you really looking at the issues and voting for Iowa and for your district, or are you voting for your party? It's not about the party; it's about the person. So I have a lot of faith in Iowa voters.
DI: What are your main criticisms of Loebsack? Obviously, you think he's too much of a party guy, but what are some of the specific criticisms that you have of him?
Miller-Meeks: When he campaigned against [former Rep. Jim] Leach, he went in for ethics reform and no [Political Action Committee] money. Seventy percent of his funds that he's raised are PAC money. The ethics reform - we haven't seen that. We still see earmarks. Not only has he voted for his party, but he really hasn't done anything to distinguish himself in getting flood monies for Iowa. Prior to adjourning, [Iowa Rep. Leonard] Boswell said [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi would ensure we have funds. We still don't have them. There's nothing on the docket. She came to visit [Iowa] last week; they brought her in. Nothing was on the docket last week for flood relief appropriations, nothing this week.
DI: So do you think Loebsack's to blame for that? Do you not think he's pushing hard enough?
Miller-Meeks: You're darn right. I think we should be pushing hard. We should be like bulldogs, not lapdogs. I may be Mariannette, but I'm nobody's puppet.
DI: What are the specific issues you're looking to push in this campaign that you have major differences with Loebsack on?
Miller-Meeks: Since last year, I've been pushing a comprehensive energy policy with a diversity of supplies. I've been pushing economic growth and how we manage to do that. Especially for our southern tier of counties, which are economically depressed - they need good policies that allow us to grow businesses. Health-care reform - how do we get health care that's accessible to everyone, that's affordable, that's portable? No one should be worried about having a car accident, or a heart attack, or cancer and not being able to navigate and access the health-care system.
DI: So why do you think your plans on those issues are better than Loebsack's?
Miller-Meeks: I have expertise on those issues, I've run a small business, I'm a veteran, I'm a doctor, I'm a nurse, I left home at 16 to work my way through college. I think I have this knowledge base that really gives me expertise in all of these areas, and he does not. It's hard to advocate for issues if you don't have knowledge of the issues. Then you're just suspect to what lobbyists tell you.
DI: I also just wanted to ask you about the presidential campaign. What your thoughts, first of all, on the Sarah Palin VP pick?
Miller-Meeks: I think the Palin pick was a bold and courageous move. Women aren't going to vote for a candidate because she's a woman. But what they liked was McCain had the gumption to say, "I think a woman's competent enough to be VP or president." That's what they like. So that has totally energized women from both parties and non-parties.
DI: What do you think overall about McCain's chances right now?
Miller-Meeks: I think McCain's chances are excellent. So when you look at someone and they lack experience and they're a heartbeat away from the presidency, I look at the other and say, "He is the heartbeat of the presidency."