Life of the Party

Winning the Governor's Mansion could be a religious experience for the GOP.

Then it became "us." Owens told the crowd of evangelical Protestants--many of them inherently suspicious of Catholics because they aren't "born again" Bible readers--that he was a founding member of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in southeast Aurora, "but I feel like I'm a member of a number of churches." He pointed out that he had been invited to speak at many other churches, including the non-denominational Grace Community, a church typical of the ones these activists attended. He also displayed his credentials by proudly noting that he participated in marathon Bible readings.

Still, he cautioned the group not to be "liberal-bashers." Said Owens, "It takes them knowing we don't have horns on our head and don't want to make them go to our church on Sunday morning."

He offered a host of practical suggestions, including "public relations," testifying on bills and writing op-ed pieces for the local papers. "I had one in the Post," he said, "and I have a piece for the Rocky Mountain News for next month. It's easy to do this." Added Owens, "As you start to get involved in this process, the process will start responding to you."

Continuing to push the right buttons and assuming his words weren't for public consumption, Owens indulged in a bit of liberal-bashing himself, blasting Dorothy Rupert of Boulder, the most far-left state lawmaker, as someone who "thinks less than anyone else in the legislature."

But that kind of talk was a no-no in public, Owens admitted. At that, one listener voiced the frustration of many of the zealots in the audience when he said, "We suddenly want things to turn around overnight." At the time, religious-right activists were heavily into confrontation--and were losing political races as a result.

Owens cautioned the group to put on a moderate face. "We tend to get angry," he said. "We have to be calm. We tend to come in and say we want to win the same way we lost. Uh-uh."

Bill Owens grew up in Texas, but he has no hint of a twang. His dad, he says, migrated to Fort Worth from Minnesota and became an insurance salesman, running a one-person agency. Now deceased, Pat Owens passed on to his five children his independence, youthfulness and energy--he was still racing cars when he was 75--along with an interest in politics. Bill's dad was an early ally of Democrat Jim Wright, who became one of the most powerful members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Jim Wright befriended me," says Owens, "even though my politics were different."

The oldest Owens kid, Mike, now 53, is currently the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. If anyone is a smoother speaker than Bill Owens, it's career foreign service officer Mike, who formerly was the State Department's top person in D.C. for the Philippines and surrounding areas and is now the country's number-two person in economically ravaged and politically turbulent Indonesia.

Both Owens boys (they have three sisters) were history buffs, Mike tells Westword. "He and I both won the history award in high school," says Mike.

But neither boy was a complete policy wonk, either. Mike says Bill "was a pretty good pitcher, too." Bill says Mike had scores of golf-scholarship offers and probably could have made a living on the PGA Tour. That golfing skill hasn't been entirely wasted, though. "Every prime minister in the region always wants to play golf with Mike," says Bill.

Mike and Bill spent a year together in D.C. between 1967 and 1968, when Bill was a teen page at the U.S. House of Representatives, but their paths haven't crossed that often since. "We haven't seen each other an awful lot," says Mike, "but when we do, it's, 'Gee, have you read this or that?' I never fought with him, but we would argue about, say, whether MacArthur was right, and one of us would go get a map. He generally was a good bit more conservative than I--not that I'm that liberal."

And not that his brother is easily labeled. "I'd have to disagree with anyone who says he's a captive of any group, particularly the religious right," says Mike. "He's just plain interested in things. He's got a real curiosity. My impression is that I don't think he's got a 'master plan' for Colorado. He just wants government made more efficient. His positions are thoughtful ones.

"Maybe it's true that he was always preparing himself for a career in politics."

That summer in D.C. with Mike was a heady experience for Owens. "I wasn't star-struck," says Bill, "but I was very, very impressed by the way democracy works." While many others of his generation have warm memories of trying to tear the system down, Owens has flashbacks of William "Fishbait" Miller, the House's longtime doorkeeper, and of seeing democracy in action.

Although Mike had gone to college in Michigan, Bill stayed in Texas. He attended Stephen F. Austin State University and then earned a graduate degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. He also served as a staffer for Republican senator John Tower.

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