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Rep. Bill Owens (D)

Bill Owens Contact
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Email: n/a
DC Contact Information

Phone: 202-225-4611

Address: 405 CHOB, DC 20515

Bill Owens Biography
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  • Elected: Nov. 2009, 2nd full term.
  • District: New York 21
  • Born: Jan. 20, 1949, Brooklyn
  • Home: Plattsburgh
  • Education:

    Manhattan Col., B.S. 1971; Fordham U., J.D. 1974

  • Professional Career:

    Practicing attorney, 1974-present.

  • Military Career:

    Air Force, 1975-79; Air Force Reserve, 1979-82.

  • Religion:


  • Family: Married (Jane); 3 children

Democrat Bill Owens is a centrist whose affable personality and focus on economic matters have enabled him to win and hold onto his seat in marginal political territory. He has twice eked out victories while preoccupied Republicans fought bloody ideological battles among themselves. Read More

Democrat Bill Owens is a centrist whose affable personality and focus on economic matters have enabled him to win and hold onto his seat in marginal political territory. He has twice eked out victories while preoccupied Republicans fought bloody ideological battles among themselves.

Owens was born in Brooklyn, the only child of a civil engineer and a homemaker. The family moved to Long Island when he was 5 years old and later settled in the suburb of Mineola. Owens graduated from Manhattan College, where he joined the Air Force ROTC, and got a deferment to attend law school at Fordham University. When he earned his law degree, he was commissioned in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). He was stationed for two years at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan and then was transferred to New York’s Plattsburgh Air Force Base.

He and his wife, Jane, whom he had met in college, decided to remain there to raise their family after Owens’ military commitment was over. When the Plattsburgh base was shuttered in 1995, Owens helped found the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp., a group that redeveloped it into a commercial center. Owens also went into local private practice, focusing on business and tax law.

In early June 2009, Republican John McHugh, who had represented the 23rd District since 1992, accepted President Barack Obama’s offer to become secretary of the Army. There are no primaries for special elections in New York, so candidates for the special election to replace McHugh were chosen by the party chairmen of the counties in the district. Republicans nominated six-term Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, a moderate similar in her politics to McHugh. She favored abortion rights, supported same-sex marriage, and had strong ties to organized labor. Unhappy with the choice, the New York Conservative Party put up its own candidate, Doug Hoffman.

Meanwhile, Democrats, unable to recruit a more experienced candidate, settled on Owens, a political novice with little name recognition. To win over local leaders, Owens stressed his work in the community, particularly on job creation. In lining up behind Owens, Democratic leaders hoped that his independence and military service would remind voters of the moderate McHugh.

As a possible bellwether for the 2010 midterm elections, the race got the attention of national figures and organizations. Hoffman was helped by the deep pockets of the national anti-tax group Club for Growth, which helped him highlight Scozzafava’s liberal social positions and her support for the Democrats’ 2009 economic stimulus bill. Scozzafava struggled with fundraising. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Hoffman won endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a favorite of tea party activists, and former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Hoffman’s polls numbers rose, and on October 31, Scozzafava withdrew from the race. The National Republican Congressional Committee switched its endorsement to Hoffman, but Scozzafava backed Owens. With Republicans in disarray, Owens eked out a victory of 48% to 46% for Hoffman, with Scozzafava getting 6%. He became the first Democrat to represent the region since 1852.

The day after he was sworn in, Owens voted for Obama’s health care overhaul. During the campaign, he had stressed expanding coverage to the uninsured. But he is the centrist he promised he would be. He opposed the Democrats’ Dodd-Frank financial services industry overhaul and the DREAM Act giving some children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. He was one of just 18 Democrats in May 2011 to support trials of terrorism suspects before military commissions. After Democrats lost a majority in the 2010 elections, Owens told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise it was “quite possible’’ he would support Republican John Boehner for speaker over Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. He didn’t follow through on the idea, however, and in 2013 was awarded a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee and on its Defense Subcommittee.

With his district’s economy struggling, Owens has introduced a slew of economic legislation, including a variety of tax-cutting initiatives and a measure to expand credit for family farmers. He and Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble led a bipartisan effort in October 2012 to push for the elimination of Canadian tariffs on U.S. dairy and poultry products. He also got a bill into law in 2011 to develop a strategy to fight drug smuggling between the United States and Canada. Though he backed health care reform, Owens joined an effort in 2010 to repeal tax reporting provisions that many small firms complained were overly burdensome.

Eyeing a big year in 2010, national Republicans targeted Owens. Hoffman returned for a rematch, but he struggled to recapture the tea party-fueled enthusiasm for his first candidacy, and he lost in the primary to Republican Matt Doheny, a Wall Street investment banker who put more than $2 million of his own money into the race. At first Hoffman refused to bow out, vowing to again run on the Conservative Party ticket. But as it became clear that he could become the spoiler that Scozzafava was a year earlier, he dropped out and threw his support to Doheny. But it was too little, too late. Owens won 48% to Doheny’s 46% and Hoffman’s 6%.

Doheny came back for a 2012 rematch, hoping that post-2010 redistricting would give him an edge in the district’s newly added Republican areas. He also sought to take advantage of a report by the investigative reporting website ProPublica that Owens and his wife took a $22,000 luxury educational tour of Taiwan at the expense of lobbyists for the Taiwanese government. Owens quickly paid back the money and expressed regret.

But Doheny had his own baggage: Democrats caught him on video at a Washington, D.C. bar kissing a political consultant who was not his fiancée, a controversy that fed Doheny’s caricature as an out-of-touch playboy. Doheny raised almost $2 million, with nearly half of it again coming from his own pocket, and won eight of the district’s 12 counties. But Owens kept pace in fundraising and racked up impressive numbers in the other four counties; he won, 50%-48%.

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Bill Owens Election Results
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2012 General
William Owens (D)
Votes: 126,631
Percent: 50.16%
Matthew Doheny
Votes: 121,646
Percent: 48.19%
2012 Primary
William Owens (D)
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (48%), 2009 Special (48%)
Bill Owens Votes and Bills
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National Journal’s rating system is an objective method of analyzing voting. The liberal score means that the lawmaker’s votes were more liberal than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The conservative score means his votes were more conservative than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The composite score is an average of a lawmaker’s six issue-based scores. See all NJ Voting

More Liberal
More Conservative
2013 2012 2011
Economic 55 (L) : 45 (C) 58 (L) : 42 (C) 60 (L) : 40 (C)
Social 56 (L) : 43 (C) 62 (L) : 38 (C) 61 (L) : 38 (C)
Foreign 54 (L) : 45 (C) 59 (L) : 41 (C) 58 (L) : 41 (C)
Composite 55.3 (L) : 44.7 (C) 59.7 (L) : 40.3 (C) 60.0 (L) : 40.0 (C)
Interest Group Ratings

The vote ratings by 10 special interest groups provide insight into a lawmaker’s general ideology and the degree to which he or she agrees with the group’s point of view. Two organizations provide just one combined rating for 2011 and 2012, the two sessions of the 112th Congress. They are the ACLU and the ITIC. About the interest groups.

Key House Votes

The key votes show how a member of Congress voted on the major bills of the year. N indicates a "no" vote; Y a "yes" vote. If a member voted "present" or was absent, the bill caption is not shown. For a complete description of the bills included in key votes, see the Almanac's Guide to Usage.

    • Pass GOP budget
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2012
    • End fiscal cliff
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Extend payroll tax cut
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Find AG in contempt
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Stop student loan hike
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Repeal health care
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2012
    • Raise debt limit
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Pass cut, cap, balance
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Defund Planned Parenthood
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Repeal lightbulb ban
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Add endangered listings
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Speed troop withdrawal
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Regulate financial firms
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Pass tax cuts for some
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Stop detainee transfers
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Legalize immigrants' kids
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Repeal don't ask, tell
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Limit campaign funds
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Bar federal abortion funds
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass health care bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
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The Almanac is a members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics. Comprehensive online profiles include biographical and political summaries of elected officials, campaign expenditures, voting records, interest-group ratings, and congressional staff look-ups. In-depth overviews of each state and house district are included as well, along with demographic data, analysis of voting trends, and political histories.
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