ELECTION 2020

Miller-Meeks' office: Election challenge slows hiring of staff

Iowa 2nd Congressional candidate State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, speaks to reporters during an election
Iowa 2nd Congressional candidate State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, speaks to reporters during an election night watch party, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside, Iowa. (Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via AP)

A phone went unanswered and messages unreturned last week at Iowa U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ short-staffed congressional office in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington.

The Republican freshman’s two-member staff was bombarded with thousands of calls and messages from constituents wanting to voice their opinions about House impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Austin Harris, Miller-Meeks’ spokesman and deputy chief of staff, said hiring office staff, including hiring someone to lead constituent services efforts in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, has been complicated by uncertainty as to whether the U.S. House will overturn the state’s certified election results.

Miller-Meeks, who was provisionally sworn in early this month as a new member of Congress, defeated Democrat Rita Hart by just six votes in the 2nd District race in November’s election. Hart’s campaign has petitioned a U.S. House committee to review the results, given what the Hart campaign believes are ballots that were legally cast but not counted in the results.

Miller-Meeks’ attorneys have yet to file an official response to Hart’s petition. The deadline is Thursday.

Currently, Miller-Meeks’ office is staffed by Harris and Chief of Staff Tracie Gibler, an Iowa GOP operative, Ottumwa native and a former chief of staff to recently ousted Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King.

“Rita’s contest has really put us in an unfortunate position,” Harris said. “We’re doing the best we can to answer every phone call. We’ve already been helping with case work, including one person who was having a particularly hard time getting a passport and folks reaching out looking for their service medals after serving in the military. ...

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“It’s an unfortunate situation ... and it’s caused quite a few issues in terms of us providing constituent services, but we’re trying to respond as quick as we can.”

Harris said Miller-Meeks’ office plans “to fill out our staff” in the next week or so.

Hart’s campaign argues Miller-Meeks had sufficient time and resources, beginning with new member orientation Nov. 9, to set up her transition team and bring over campaign aides to serve in her office.

Like every other member of the House, Miller-Meeks has “every resource at her disposal to serve the people of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District,” Hart campaign spokesman Riley Kilburg said, including more than $1 million to set up her congressional office. “Her sole obligation is to assist Iowans and she is already failing to do so. If Miller-Meeks isn’t up to the job, she should step down.”

Miller-Meeks, shortly before her swearing in, told the Quad-City Times her transition team had been slow in setting up district offices and hiring staff, given the haze of uncertainty that surrounds the outcome of the race, and hoped to avoid interruption or disruption in constituent services.

Complicating matters last week was phone number mix-up. The agency responsible for setting up freshmen House members’ congressional websites listed Democrat Dave Loebsack’s Davenport district office number, Harris said.

Loebsack previously held the seat and retired after serving seven terms representing the district.

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