Owens Explains Decision To Retire From U.S. House

Jan 14, 2014

Congressman Bill Owens
Credit photo provided

New York Congressman Bill Owens announced this afternoon that he will not run for re-election.  WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley joined a conference call as the Democrat explained his decision.

It’s a surprising, quiet ending to a brief political career defined by razor-thin electoral victories and center-left pragmatism in Washington — one that caught supporters on their heels.   Owens was first elected to his House seat in 2009 in a special election to replace Republican John McHugh, who resigned to become secretary of the Army. Owens was the first Democrat to acquire the seat since the Civil War. He won two subsequent elections, both by narrow margins.
His announcement to retire after five years was a shock to the region, and the 64-year-old grandfather insists it’s to allow him to spend more time with family.  “There are no health issues, at least none that I’m aware of. And, as my statement said, this goes to spending more time with my family. And it’s a decision that we came to, if you will, as a group. And it was one that I’m very comfortable with because I think that that’s the road that I need to take at this point in my life.”

Owens has won re-election by narrow margins, but with the calendar approaching another midterm, he says that’s not a factor in this decision.  “Clearly I’ve had very three very tight races. But I’ve won all three. I’m not afraid of another fight. I’ve just decided that it’s time to move on.”

Owens was pressed as to why he made the decision so late in the petitioning process.   “I was struggling with the decision. This is one of those things, unfortunately, that you sort-of have in the back of your mind and it kind of grows over time. And then you reach a decision. And I’ve been ready to act for a couple of days and we got it done today. (How long have you been grappling with it?) About six weeks ago is when the first thought crossed my mind. And I’ve been having conversations with my family for that period of time.”

Owens admits that he planned to make a formal announcement on Wednesday, but news of his decision leaked, so he released an e-mail announcement. Looking forward, Owens doesn’t think his departure from the House threatens Democrats’ chances to re-take the chamber.  “I don’t believe that my race necessarily will impact that. We’ve won it three times. I think there’s a good likelihood, given the fact that the President took the district by five points that we’ll come up with another good candidate who will be able to succeed in the district.”

Owens dislikes being tagged as a Blue Dog Democrat, but believes the district reflects his stances.  “I think the district is a moderate district, as reflected in the fact that I was elected three times.  The district is filled with Rockefeller Republicans and Reagan Democrats. People who are concerned about specific issues. They may fall a little bit left or right of the line, but that’s really, I think, the nub that best describes the folks in the district.”

While he intends to continue working to bring jobs and economic development to the North Country, he also has no job lined up.  “That was not a consideration in this decision al all. I am gonna sit back and see what unfolds, but I have no specific plan as to what I’m gonna do.”

Owens says there’s no rancor behind his decision to depart .  “I’ve had an extraordinarily good experience here. I’ve found this process to be a great learning experience. It’s broadened my view of the world. And I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity.”

Owens will leave office at the end of the year.