The director of Iowa's Department of Public Health said Thursday she has resigned because she wants to fully explore her future options.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an opthamologist from Ottumwa, has led the department since after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was elected in 2010. And her resignation, which was announced by the governor Thursday, came as somewhat of a surprise.
Miller-Meeks has said in previous visits to the Quad-Cities that she's considering a bid for the Republican nomination in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District but had made no decisions yet.
In an interview Thursday, she did not tip her hand.
"That's an option that hasn't been ruled out," she said.
Later in the afternoon Thursday, however, Branstad's office confirmed that the governor had told a reporter in Des Moines that Miller-Meeks was resigning because she intended to run for the 2nd District seat.
Miller-Meeks also had said her future options include going back into patient practice or taking a physician's executive post.
The filing deadline for the primary isn't until March 14, so there are several weeks to file nomination papers. But the party's precinct caucuses also are coming up later this month, and they are often a venue for candidates to make their case to activists, as well as circulate nomination papers.
Miller-Meeks, a Republican, has run for the 2nd District seat twice already but not since its boundaries were redrawn to include the Quad-Cities.
Iowa Rep. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, already has announced that he will seek the GOP nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa.
Miller-Meeks attended a forum for Republican Senate candidates at St. Ambrose University in October.
She also attended a meeting of the Bettendorf Rotary in November, speaking about her duties as the director of public health.
Her decision to step down also comes after she was criticized this week by Democrats after a newspaper story said that she had told a group last fall the top food item purchased in Iowa with food stamps is Mountain Dew.
The state doesn't keep such detailed statistics, and Miller-Meeks said through a spokeswoman later that she regretted any miscommunication but that she was only trying to emphasize the need for a healthy diet, not make a political statement.
The remark was included in a news story published this week in the Quad-City Times and other newspapers about the current food stamp debate.
In the interview Thursday, Miller-Meeks said her comments were taken out of context. When asked whether it had anything to do with her resignation, she said: "None whatsoever."
Branstad praised Miller-Meeks' tenure in a statement Thursday, saying she "served with great passion." He also credited her with promoting Iowa's healthiest state initiative.
Miller-Meeks' resignation is effective Jan. 17. Gerd Clabaugh has been named the interim director of the public health department, Branstad's office said. Clabaugh currently is the deputy director.