Episode 61: Exit Interview with Rep. Bill Owens

Retiring lawmaker advises colleagues ‘be rational’.

Some politicians slide into Congress after a boring, predictable, easy win as the predestined candidate. Others practically stumble — like Congressman Bill Owens, who was the last man standing in the dust of a political nuclear war back in 2009.

In this week’s podcast, host Andrea Seabrook sits down with the Democratic congressman from upstate New York as part of DecodeDC’s Exit Interview series. Owens announced his retirement in January of this year.

Congressman Owens is one of the most endangered species in Washington—the rational pragmatist.

“My view of the world is that there is a band of rational thought that we should all act in. I’m not saying that there is nothing you should be passionate about. But I think ultimately you have to go back to a thought-process that is fact-based and analytic,” Owens said.

But to understand how a lawmaker can be so rational, let’s take a look at how he got to Congress.

It was a special election in upstate New York that came at the end of President Obama’s first year in office. Republicans were in an uproar, and the tea party was on the rise.

Two candidates jumped into the race from the right. One was a moderate, and the other was a tea party-endorsed conservative.

But through all of this, no one seemed to notice the guy in the corner—the Democrat, Bill Owens, in the race for a seat that hadn’t been held by a Democrat since the Civil War.

When the dust finally settled, Owens had won. But the day after the election, the news coverage practically ignored him and instead focused on the two opponents he beat – and Owens says he was actually pretty glad not to be on the television.

“Because the narrative that they (his opponents) were putting out was in large measure inaccurate. And so it was my introduction, if you will, to the idea that people talked from a script rather from, in my perspective, what they believed,” Owens says.

Owens isn’t one for the Red Team/Blue Team fight. In fact, he was a registered Independent for much of his career.

“You can’t take a position, in my view, that says, ‘Well, I’m going to have you sacrifice but not me. ‘… We need to finds ways to, if you will, conjoin the interests of groups as opposed to splitting them apart. And we don’t focus on that in my view very often,” Owens says.

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