Replace one moderate Democrat with a great Utah political name with another moderate Democrat with an equally great Utah political name?
Doug Owens hopes Democrats and Republicans alike in the 4th Congressional District see the wisdom in such a move.
Owens is the second oldest child of the late U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens, who passed away in 2002.
A business/environmental attorney, the younger Owens has never run for office before. (He graduated from the University of Utah and Yale Law School.)
But he’s decided to jump into the leaning-Republican 4th District, surprisingly being vacated this year by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
“I’ve just decided to do this,” Owens told UtahPolicy over the weekend.
“I’ve decided because of the opportunity of an open seat, and the fact that my children have grown to an age where they may not need the immediate attention” that young children can demand, said Owens, who is 50, married and the father of four kids ages 13-23.
The Matheson and Owens’ names go back into the 1970s and 1980s, when a Democrat of the right stripe could still win elections in Utah. (Jim Matheson being the recent exception.)
The late Gov. Scott M. Matheson served from 1976 through 1984. He died in 1990.
Wayne Owens – who cut his teeth working for both Bobby and Teddy Kennedy, as well as a swarm of Utah Democratic officeholders, won the old 2nd Congressional District in 1972.
He shocked a number of old-boy Democrats by giving up that relatively safe U.S. House seat just two years later to run for the U.S. Senate, ultimately losing a bitter battle with former Sen. Jake Garn in 1974.
Wayne took a few years off, ran a losing race for governor in 1984 before winning a newly-expanded 2nd District back in 1986.
He held it for two more elections.
But Wayne Owens always wanted to be in the U.S. Senate, like Bobby and Teddy. Owens lost a U.S. Senate race again in 1992 to Republican Bob Bennett, and retired from elected politics.
“My father was a wonderful man. I idolized him in a number of ways,” says the younger Owens. “I want to walk in a few of his footsteps. It’s intimidating. But I’m up for it.”
Owens doesn’t like to put a political label on himself – like liberal, moderate or conservative.
“I don’t fit into a mold. I’m a practical guy. I say figure out what the (political/governmental) problems are, and then go fix them.”
With “reasonable” Republicans and Democrats working together, congressional and federal government problems can be fixed.
“I want to be part of that.”
Right now, the GOP frontrunner is 2012 candidate Mia Love. She would be the first African-American female GOP House member in history, and her 2012 race against Matheson – she barely lost – brought in national money and attention.
Many Utahns may think, with Matheson out, Love is a shoe-in. But Owens isn’t one of them.
“The bottom line is: Jim won. And he won (in 2012) with a wave running against him – Mia was well known, an attractive candidate. Mitt Romney (running for president) was at the top of the ticket. And there was a lot of outside money” being poured into the race.
“Jim tells me that he believes 2012 was a high-water mark” against him, says Owens.
“I believe that is the case.” And it is not too strange to believe that an Owens could win in the 4th District, like a Matheson did before.
(Unlike Matheson, Owens lives in the 4th District, in the small appendage that shoots up into The Cove area of eastside Salt Lake County. Most of the district runs along the westside of Salt Lake and Utah counties, down into Nephi and Manti.)
Several national political pundits say the 4th District is an R+16, meaning it leans Republican by 16 percentage points.
If that is so, says Owens, then he needs to convince 8 percentage points more Republicans to vote for him – something he believes is possible.
Owens said he hopes he can attract the national Democratic money the same way that Matheson did.
Matheson and Love spent around $2.5 million each. With another $6 million to $7 million coming in in so-called “independent” expenditures – 2012 was clearly the most expensive Utah U.S. race of all time.
Owens said he doesn’t expect to see much national support “until I can prove myself competitive in the polls.”
But he thinks he can become so. He’s planning a Washington, D.C., trip to make connects with some of that national money.
Owens said he is not independently wealthy and can’t afford to self fund a competition race.
Where does he stand on some issues?
— Owens, a practicing Mormon, doesn’t favor same-sex marriage. But he does support some form of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
“If you are committed in a relationship, you should have the same rights as a (heterosexual) couple” in such cases as hospital visits, joint financial decisions and so on, he said.
Utah Federal Judge Robert Shelby – who ruled Utah’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional — “is a reasonable, moderate Republican. I know him,” said Owens.
But instead of arguing over same-sex marriage, with hurt feelings and wasted effort, just let the U.S. Supreme Court rule on the matter.
“That is coming, if not this year, then certainly in the next year or two. Same-sex marriage is in the courts, let it be decided there.”
There are a lot of other problems Congress needs to get going on, he said.
Owens favors a statewide antidiscrimination law to protect gays in housing and employment, however.
“The LDS Church supports such laws,” he noted.
He declined to say whether he would have voted for Obamacare (Matheson voted both for and against it while in the House.)
“It clearly is an unholy mess. It does have a kernel of good – people are getting health care coverage.
“We need to fix it. I don’t think it will be repealed. That is not a political reality. So instead of arguing about it, let’s define the problems and get to fixing them.”
Owens favors the No Labels initiative of a constitutional amendment that would stop paying congressmen salaries if Congress doesn’t pass a budget.
“I want to be a problem-solver, not a partisan who just sits back (in Congress) and holds his breathe, not really do anything if he doesn’t get his way.
“And many see Mia back there in the common (partisan) area, holding her breath.”
A 4th District race in 2014 will not be easy, says Owens.
“Mia is an attractive candidate. She has Dave Hansen (running her campaign); the gold standard of Utah campaign management.”
But the bottom line is that Matheson did defeat her 18 months ago.
And maybe another moderate Democrat with a good family political name can do so again.