Bill Owens (Colorado politician)

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Bill Owens
Governor of Colorado Bill Owens 060502-N-5324D-001 crop.jpg
40th Governor of Colorado
In office
January 12, 1999 – January 9, 2007
Lieutenant Joe Rogers
Jane Norton
Preceded by Roy Romer
Succeeded by Bill Ritter
Treasurer of Colorado
In office
January 10, 1995 – January 12, 1999
Governor Roy Romer
Preceded by Gail Schoettler
Succeeded by Mike Coffman
Personal details
Born (1952-10-22) October 22, 1952 (age 61)
Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Frances Owens (1975–2008)
Alma mater Stephen F. Austin State University
University of Texas, Austin
Religion Roman Catholicism

Bill Owens (born October 22, 1952) is an American politician and a member of the Republican Party who served as the 40th Governor of Colorado from 1999 to 2007. Owens was re-elected in 2002 by the largest majority in Colorado history,[1] after making transportation, education, and tax cuts the focus of his governorship.[2]

Early life[edit]

Bill Owens was born in Ft. Worth, Texas, where he graduated from Paschal High School. While a sophomore in high school, Owens was appointed a Page in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman (and later, Speaker of the House) Jim Wright. Owens was assigned by the Doorkeeper of the House to the Republican cloakroom, where he worked for notable Republicans who were serving in the House then such as George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Bob Dole.

He attended Stephen F. Austin State University where he served as vice president and president of the student body. While at Stephen F. Austin State University, Owens served as a coordinator of the Students for George Bush in George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate. It was during this campaign that Owens would first meet future President George W. Bush.

Owens earned a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from the University of Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, where he was awarded a full two-year fellowship.

Following his graduate work, Owens accepted a position in the Washington D.C. office of Touche Ross & Co. (now Deloitte). He moved to Colorado in 1977 after accepting a position with the Gates Corporation. He later served as Executive Director of the Colorado Petroleum Association and as Executive Vice President of the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association.

Early political career[edit]

Bill Owens served as a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from 1982 until 1988, and as a State Senator from 1988 to 1994, representing Aurora and Arapahoe County.

While in the Legislature, Owens was active in tax reform, privatization and school choice initiatives, sponsoring the nation's third charter school law. He served as Chair of both the House and Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committees and as Chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Energy Committee, as well as on NCSL’s Executive Committee.

Owens was elected to statewide office as Colorado State Treasurer in 1994, where he was responsible for managing the state's $5 billion in investment funds. Owens also served during this time on the board of Colorado's $25 billion pension fund, the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

Governorship[edit]

Treasurer Owens was elected as the 40th Governor of Colorado in the 1998 governor's race, when he defeated Democratic opponent Gail Schoettler by only 8,300 votes (less than one percent of ballots cast). When he was inaugurated on January 12, 1999, Owens became Colorado’s first Republican governor in 24 years. His platform was three pronged: cut taxes, repair Colorado’s aging infrastructure, and continue school accountability reforms.[2]

Tax cuts[edit]

Upon entering office, Owens worked with a legislature controlled by his own Republican party to push through the largest tax relief package in state history, amounting to $1 billion in rate cuts to the sales, personal-income, and capital-gains taxes. Owens also championed, and eventually won, the elimination of the state’s marriage penalty. By 2006, the Owens administration estimated the cuts had saved Coloradans $3.6 billion.[2]

TRANS and T-REX[edit]

In November 1999, Owens brought his transportation funding initiative to the ballot. Called TRANS, the $1.7 billion bonding initiative accelerated future federal transportation dollars on 28 projects across the state. The keystone project was the "TRansportation EXpansion" dubbed T-REX.

T-REX combined road funding from TRANS with $460 million-worth of new light rail lines to greatly expand a 19-mile stretch of Interstate 25 through the south Denver Metro Area. Through an innovative design-build concept that greatly reduced construction times, T-REX was finished in less than five years, and came in under budget.[2]

Education reform[edit]

Bill Owens based his education reforms on expanding and empowering the already-established Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), which had been created during the administration of Democratic predecessor Roy Romer. Owens added “accountability reports” to the tests, which provided parents with a 'school report card' to allow them to better assess the performance of Colorado's public schools.[2]

Second term[edit]

Owens won reelection in the 2002 governor's race by defeating the Democratic candidate, Boulder businessman Rollie Heath, 64%–32% – the greatest majority in Colorado history. Shortly before the election, Owens was proclaimed by National Review as "America's Best Governor".[3]

In the summer of 2002, when the Hayman Fire and Coal Seam Fire ravaged much of Western Colorado, Owens made perhaps the first major press faux-pas of his tenure. Responding to a reporter’s question following an aerial tour of the fires (“What does it look like up there?”), Owens said “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning today”.[4] Many western slope residents blamed Owens for driving away tourists with the press’s truncated version of the quote (“All of Colorado is burning”).[5]

In November 2002, Colorado voters rejected Owens’ water storage initiative, Referendum A. The referendum failed to win a single county in the state, as opponents successfully savaged the measure as a “blank check”.[2] Owens would later joke, “it takes a particularly adept Governor to lose a water referendum in the face of a 300-year drought.” While the initiative was supported by most Colorado newspapers and business groups, it was opposed by the environmental community and many on Colorado's Western Slope who feared it would lead to the Front Range using more Western Slope water.

Leading up to the 2004 primary, Owens caused some controversy in the Republican Party by announcing support for Bob Schaffer's run to replace retiring U.S. Senator Ben Campbell, but then endorsing Pete Coors when Coors later announced his entry two days later.

Democrat Bill Ritter was elected in November 2006 to replace the term-limited Owens.

Referendum C[edit]

In 2005, Owens faced what former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm termed “the test of his time.”[2] Conflicting budget measures in Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR, which caps government spending) and the voter endorsed Amendment 23 (which mandates increases in education funding) combined with a nationwide recession to leave Colorado’s budget 17 percent below 2001 levels. A “glitch” – as Owens termed it – in TABOR prevented the budget from rebounding once the recession reversed.

Owens angered some conservatives by working with moderate Republican and Democratic legislators to craft and endorse what became known as Referendum C – essentially a 5-year timeout from TABOR’s spending restrictions. National conservative leaders such as Grover Norquist and Dick Armey publicly criticized the measure and Owens’ support thereof. Referendum C passed with 52% of the vote in November 2005.[2] While it was endorsed by every major newspaper in the state as well as the state Chamber of Commerce, it was nevertheless controversial.

Owens served as Vice Chair and Chair of the Republican Governors Association, and was elected by his colleagues as Chair of the Western Governors Association.

Owens was a frequent participant in the national policy debate, appearing on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS Morning News, Bill O’Reilly, Hannity & Colmes, Hardball, the Wall Street Journal Report and Lou Dobbs.

Owens also debated public policy in person including well publicized debates with Democratic Chair Howard Dean on the Patriot Act before the ACLU National Convention in San Francisco; with Dr. Larry Summers at the Aspen Institute; with former Illinois Governor George Ryan on the death penalty at Michigan State University; with ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero on the Patriot Act at Northwestern State University; and with Justice Adrian Hardiman, the former Chief Justice of the Irish Supreme Court on the death penalty at the University College in Dublin, Ireland.

Owens was a regular participant and panelist at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, appearing in 2005 on a panel debating U.S. foreign policy with Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd.

Soviet Union/Russia[edit]

Owens has been a student of the Soviet Union and Russia since the 1980s. He was a group leader for People to People International, leading groups to the Soviet Union and Russia in the 1980s and 1990s, briefing the participants on Russian politics, history, and economics. He has spoken on U.S. foreign policy at Moscow State University, Russia New University (Moscow), Kazan State University in Tatarstan, and the Kazakh-British Technical University in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

He addressed the Kazakh Senate at Astana, Kazakhstan, in 2003 and was the keynote speaker at the RAND US/Russia Business Leaders Forum in Moscow in 2004. Owens served five years on the Board of Directors and as Chair of the Strategy Committee of Far Eastern Shipping Company, a Moscow-based rail, port and container company which is listed on the Moscow exchange.

Owens is presently on the Advisory Board and Chair of the Strategy and Finance Committee of the Credit Bank of Moscow.

After politics[edit]

Owens is a Managing Director at Renew Strategies, a Denver-based land and water development firm. He is on a number of public boards including Key Energy (NYSE:KEG); Cloud Peak Energy (NYSE); Bill Barrett Corporation (NYSE:BBG) and Federal Signal (NYSE:FSS).

Owens joined the University of Denver's Institute for Public Policy Studies in January 2007 as a senior fellow.

Owens was an early supporter of Mitt Romney's 2008 Presidential campaign.[6] After Romney dropped out of the race, Owens worked actively for John McCain's campaign. He endorsed Romney again for the 2012 Republican nomination and served as Co-Chair of Romney's Colorado campaign.

After several media outlets confused him with another Bill Owens, a Democrat who was running in a high-profile special election in Northern New York, former Governor Owens endorsed his opponent, Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman.[7]

Personal[edit]

Owens and his wife Frances married in January 1975. In January 2008, he and Frances announced they would divorce.[8] They have three children, Monica (born in 1983), Mark (born in 1986), and Brett (born in 1991).[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Bill Owens". Deloitte. 2007-02-15. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Owens tenure coming to an end". The Denver Post. 2006-12-10. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  3. ^ "America's Best Governor: For Republicans, a Rocky Mountain high – Bill Owens". National Review. 2002-02-02. Archived from the original on 2007-11-10. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  4. ^ "Fears May Be Outpacing Reality in Colorado Fires". New York Times. 2002-06-16. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  5. ^ "The backcountry business". Summit Daily News. 2003-08-06. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  6. ^ "Romney's state team includes Benson, Owens". Rocky Mountain News. 2008-01-05. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  7. ^ http://www.9news.com/news/watercooler/article.aspx?storyid=126259&catid=337
  8. ^ Crummy, Karen (2008-01-16). "Former Gov. Owens, wife divorcing". Denver Post. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Gail Schoettler
Treasurer of Colorado
January 10, 1995–January 12, 1999
Succeeded by
Mike Coffman
Preceded by
Roy Romer
Governor of Colorado
January 12, 1999–January 9, 2007
Succeeded by
Bill Ritter