Gov. Bill Owens (R)|
Last Updated May 29, 2001
term expires Jan. 2003
Born: Oct. 22, 1950,
Ft. Worth, TX
Education: Austin St. U., B.S. 1973; U. of TX, M.P.A. 1975
Marital Status: married
- Political: CO House of Reps., 1982-88; CO Senate, 1988-94; CO Treasurer, 1994-98.
- Professional: Consultant, Touche Ross & Co., 1975-77; Project Mgr., Gates Corp., 1977-80, Assoc. Dir., 1980-82; Exec. Dir., CO trade assn., 1982-95.
Office: 136 State Capitol, Denver
303-866-2471; Fax: 303-866-2003; Web: www.state.co.us.
Bill Owens grew up in Texas and was appointed a page by Congressman Jim Wright, whom Owens's father had supported in his first victory in 1954. He went to Austin State University, where he demonstrated with a red-white-and-blue armband against anti-Vietnam war demonstrators, and to the University of Texas's Lyndon B. Johnson School, where he was one of the few Republicans during the Watergate scandal. He moved to Colorado and went to work for an oil producers' association. In 1982 he was elected to the state House and in 1988 to the state Senate. There he sponsored a successful charter schools law in 1993 and public school choice in 1994. He opposed Governor Roy Romer's 1% tax for education. He worked for deregulation of taxis, limousines, messengers and off-road charters, and for the three-strikes law. In 1994 he was elected state treasurer.
In the 1998 race to succeed Romer, who was term-limited, Owens was one of two Republicans running. Owens won the party nomination in convention, and went on to win the primary against Senate President Tom Norton, 59%-41%. On the Democratic side Lieutenant Governor Gail Schoettler was opposed by state Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, who was endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Colorado Education Association; she won 53%-45%.
In the general the issues were squarely raised. Owens favored cutting the state income tax and eliminating the property tax on business property like computers and machines; he called for tort reform; he called for holding teachers and students accountable for results, while reducing education regulation; he wanted more emphasis on buses rather than light rail. Schoettler, riding across the state on a Tennessee walking horse named Sam to promote her views, represented continuity with past policies; she had worked for Governor Dick Lamm and then was elected treasurer and lieutenant governor. Schoettler cut into the usual Republican vote among high-earning and high-education voters; Owens depended heavily on the support of the elderly. Romer argued that it would be dangerous to turn over control to ''an increasingly conservative legislature and a very conservative governor.'' It was a close election, but Owens won 49%-48%. Schoettler had a 52%-46% margin in metro Denver, but Owens carried the rest of the state by 51%-46%, including 61%-36% in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
In his first two years Owens delivered on many of his promises, though not always as some Republicans liked. He backed two big transportation bond referenda, with $1.6 billion to add lanes and widen roads, especially I-25 which could be called the state's main street, and $457 million to quadruple the light rail system in Denver and five suburban counties. Voters rejected transportation initiatives in 1997 and 1998, but in 1999 Owens raised $1.8 million and campaigned with Romer and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, and the bond proposal passed. To spotlight Colorado's strengths as a high-tech center, Owens created a state Office of Innovation and Technology, headed by investor and onetime Pennsylvania congressional candidate Mark Holtzman, and made trips to Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas, and to meet Bill Gates in Redmond, Washington, to encourage entrepreneurs to locate businesses in Colorado. Owens's greatest crisis in 1999 was, of course, Columbine, to which he responded with much attention and state aid. Later, reflecting on the tragedy, he called for changes in police tactics and longer school hours for teenagers, and said, "Some people are quick to blame it on guns … In fact, those two killers broke scores of laws, and one more law--or even a dozen laws--wouldn't have changed the hate that resided so deeply in their hearts. Others might want to blame the parents. After all, how could they not know that their sons were building an arsenal of bombs within their homes? Many of us have wanted to blame violent movies and video games and even Internet sites. However, what all these contributing factors boil down to is the fact that our culture is badly in need of repair and healing."
Owens's major effort in 2000 was education reform. His proposal to expand the use of state assessment tests and to issue letter grades to each school based on performance was loudly opposed by Democrats and the Colorado Education Association, but was passed by the Republican legislature. Owens also secured a large increase in state spending on education, much more than Romer had gotten, and settled a lawsuit over construction in poor districts; he pushed an initiative to spend $50 million a year on math and science. Owens opposed a November ballot proposition to require inflation plus 1% increases in state education spending for schools, but it passed anyway. In 2001 he sought more money for school construction and more Read to Achieve literacy program grants. Owens failed to get the legislature to pass a law requiring background checks for sales at gun shows, but it passed in initiative form in November.
Owens has achieved notice in other ways. Lieutenant Governor Joe Rogers feuded with him when Owens sought background checks of office employees; they patched things up in a meeting in October 1999. In October 1999 Owens said the parents of murdered Jon Benet Ramsey should stop hiding behind their lawyers and return to Colorado; in March 2000 he said, "The focus in this case is really on Patsy Ramsey." He criticized Clinton administration federal lands policies and called off negotiations on a federal land swap after Clinton without local input created the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in June 2000. He endorsed and campaigned for George W. Bush. Owens comes up for re-election in 2002.
Safe. Owens has been forced to deal with more than his share of crises in his first term--the school shootings in Columbine, in particular--but has handled them well and has not suffered politically. He is not likely to get a top-tier challenger (there is more interest in taking on Senator Wayne Allard) and the only Democrat said to be seriously looking at the race is businessman Rollie Heath, whose wife was the party's 1990 Senate nominee.
||Bill Owens (R)
|Gail Schoettler (D)
||Bill Owens (R)
|Tom Norton (R)
||Roy Romer (D)
|Bruce Benson (R)
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