ELDRIDGE -- Mariannette Miller-Meeks has some key things in common with Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
They are both military veterans (he Air Force and she Army), and she was raised in the Lone Star state, attended college there (a nursing degree at Texas Christian University) and earned her medical degree there (University of Texas at San Antonio). Like Gov. Perry, Dr. Miller-Meeks is a Republican who seeks to raise her national profile.
The 58-year-old ophthalmologist from Ottumwa is running against U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, and Gov. Perry spoke in support of her third bid for Congress at a fundraiser Sunday at the home of Betty Dexter. Dr. Miller-Meeks was unsuccessful in Congressional bids in 2008 and 2010.
"I don't need to know her personally; I need to know her story -- and this is a person who as a young individual, made a lot of really mature decisions," Gov. Perry, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, said, noting he only found out about her two months ago. "She made a decision she was going to improve her life, that she was going to serve our country."
Dr. Miller-Meeks has given to this country and the state of Iowa, including two years as director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, he said. "Even if I never met her before, I would be for Mariannette, even if she wasn't from Texas," the Texas governor said.
"This extraordinary story of a woman who took control of her life and put herself on a trajectory to become a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army," Gov. Perry said. "To be a physician, to head up public health here in Iowa, she understands what public service is really all about."
Dr. Miller-Meeks left home at 16, while living in LaCoste, Texas, after being burned in a kitchen fire at 15. After her treatment and physical therapy, she decided to become a doctor, through help from the Army.
Dr. Miller-Meeks is one of eight children, and her father served in the Air Force. She moved to Iowa first to do her residency at the University of Iowa. She served as an Army nurse from 1976 to 1982 and in Army Reserves medical services for 17 years after that.
"I've had a lifetime of persevering, tenacity, working hard to achieve a goal, and that's why we're all here," she said Sunday. "When you've had a lifetime of listening to and caring for those most in need, that's the kind of person you want to put in Congress. That's the kind of person that will do everything to make sure those of us most in need and most vulnerable can achieve the same thing."
Her goals are to make health care more affordable and portable, increase take-home pay with better-paying jobs, to hold government accountable and to get rid of the bureaucracy and problems with the Veterans Administration that have caused so many delays in care.
The U.S. government made veterans a "sacred oath and promise we would take care of them," Gov. Perry said, calling the VA scandal an ''absolute debacle .... We need a physician who is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army to stand there and tell people in Washington, D.C., here's how you fix the VA. Mariannette will do that."
After her primary win in June to face Rep. Loebsack, Dr. Miller-Meeks' daughter and son posted on her Facebook page. Her daughter wrote, "She's small but mighty," while her son posted: "You've come a long way from cleaning my diapers. One more win and you can clean up the poop in Washington, D.C."
"I am running for Congress because we have a totally inept, incompetent, dysfunctional mess in Washington, D.C., and somebody needs to go there and clean that mess up," Dr. Miller-Meeks said. "And who better than a doctor, a veteran and a problem-solver?"
People want to know, "Who's standing up for the little guy?" she noted. "Without stating the obvious, I am the little guy, and I am standing up."
She claimed Democrats vote in lockstep with the president and party leaders, like puppets.
"I may be a little Mariannette, but I am nobody's puppet," Dr. Miller-Meeks exclaimed to cheers, adding she wants to send the message -- "We keep our doctors, and we lose our Congressmen."
"Iowa will be making incredible production for America when you send Joni Ernst and Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks to the United States Congress," Gov. Perry said, noting Ms. Ernst, a Republican Senate candidate who is running against U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat.
"The United States Senate could hinge on whether we send Joni Ernst to the Senate, whether we're going to have (Majority Leader) Harry Reid continuing to block good legislation as he's doing," the governor said. "The idea Washington has gone home, while we have this issue on the border, taking a five-week vacation, is beyond me.
"The drug cartels and the trans-national gangs are not on vacation. They are still very active on the border," Gov. Perry said, adding if the federal government doesn't take action to stop illegal immigration, Texas will.
"We need to send Joni Ernst to the Senate and change leadership in the United States Senate. That's the reason Iowa is very, very important," he said.
Gov. Perry ran unsuccessfully in the 2012 presidential race (and fifth in the Iowa caucuses, with 10.3 percent), but is again being talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
The Texas governor is the third presidential hopeful to visit the area in recent weeks, following Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Gov. Perry said his relationship with Iowa is better than it was two and a half years ago.
"It's kind of like with my wife -- we learn more about each other and respect each other better," he said.
Today is Friday, Sept. 19, the 262nd day of 2014. There are 103 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Charles M. Osborn of this city, a lawyer of prominence, who voted for Lincoln in 1860 is now out strong for McClellan and will take the stump for him. 1889 -- 125 years ago: The George Fleming company had begun its dried fruit packing in a branch plant on 16th Street, Rock Island, employing nearly a hundred workers. 1914 -- 100 years ago: The cornerstone of the new Eagles home was laid. Building committee members were John Kobeman, Fred Ehmke and Frank Wich. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Former Kaiser Wilhelm, in exile, is sad as the Nazis march with communists. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Ninety-two members of the acappella choir at Davenport's West High School today accepted an invitation to perform at the New York World's Fair on June 13, 1965. 1989 -- 25 years ago: A Rock Island woman is one of 50 winners of $10,000 in cash in the Illinois State Lottery's "Celebration "89" instant ticket game. Dawn Loeffler was the third winner to be chosen through daily drawings that began Aug. 28 and will run 50 consecutive days.