Life of the Party

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

Owens supported Amendment 2 back in 1992 but says it had nothing to do with a religious agenda: "The reason was that I really don't believe that we ought to establish as a new civil right sexual identity. And that's all there is to it. I do not support gay marriages. But I'm not against homosexuals. I know it sounds trite, but I do have gay friends."

One hallmark of the religious right, as reflected in the pages of the Rocky Mountain Family Council's newsletter, is a concern over too much "tolerance" in society. To which Owens says, "I think we are a multicultural society in which, in fact, we have to have tolerance. I've always been tolerant. Obviously we have to define what we want to tolerate. Do we tolerate child abuse? No. Do we tolerate murder? No. Do we tolerate a person who has different views than ours, a person of color? Absolutely."

Like a Zelig, Owens has shown up in the oddest places. He was the only politician on a long list of ministers and businessmen to attach his name to a "community marriage policy" promulgated by the Rocky Mountain Family Council. The "policy" calls not only for abstinence but also for a commitment to Christ. "Yes, I read it, and there are principles in it that many people would agree with," says Owens. "I wouldn't support a law enforcing this."

Another unusual venue for someone who paints himself as a mainstream conservative was a guest-host spot in 1994 on KHNC-AM, the radical-right station in Johnstown that promoted itself as America's "patriot" radio outlet until Tim McVeigh gave the patriot movement a bad name in 1995.

Owens says his stint on KHNC "really was before its reputation had become established as kind of a militia station. I knew it was a conservative audience, but this was in fact before they probably started to think about the black helicopters."

Bound to plague him in any statewide campaign, though, are his answers on the Christian Coalition's 1994 Voter's Guide: Asked to choose between abstinence or sex education, he chose abstinence.

"I'm not one who believes it has to be either abstinence or sex education," explains Owens.

But Bill Owens will have to keep answering tough questions. The Republican Party's elephant in the living room is not the party symbol: It's abortion.

Late last month, Planned Parenthood's political arm, the Action Fund, sent an anti-Owens blast to its Republican members. Dated March 27, the letter from Sylvia M. Clark, president and CEO of the Action Fund, explained that the organization "is concerned that Owens is not only anti-choice, but also anti-family planning, anti-responsible sex education and, ultimately, anti-Planned Parenthood." An attached "fact sheet" from Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Katie Reinisch and Don Mares, chair of the Action Fund Committee (and also Denver city auditor) said Owens "developed a record and a reputation [in the legislature] as a right-wing, religiously motivated politician." It noted that, according to the Colorado Springs Right-to-Life 1994 voter guide, Owens supported parental notification and consent for teens seeking abortions, opposed fetal-tissue research and supported a ban on public funding for abortion.

Clark, a moderate Republican from El Paso County ("I think there are three of us," she quips), says Owens's candidacy "could be a real threat to people, knowing what he has staked out as his territory."

Concerning sex education, Clark says, "I'm a mom and a grandmom. I think abstinence is wonderful. It solves a lot of problems. But to say all people have to be abstinent is not realistic. To deny people information on how to protect themselves from infection and pregnancy is irresponsible. The effort to say abstinence or nothing denies essential information to people.

"We feel that Mr. Owens has expressed his position very, very clearly on abstinence education, censorship, parental rights and abortion," Clark adds. "It's not usual for us to take this action."

Planned Parenthood's move could threaten the delicately balanced GOP coalition Owens is trying to build. And it angers people like Jack Weil, one of the pro-choice Republicans in Owens's camp. Weil, chairman of the GOP's First Congressional District, has impeccable pro-choice credentials: He was the pro-choice whip for Colorado's delegation at the party's last convention.

"I haven't seen the letter, but if they do that, I will discontinue giving money to Planned Parenthood," says Weil. "I believe that Owens is on the level, honest and a good person. I feel very strongly about Roe v. Wade, and if I felt Bill Owens would upset the apple cart, I wouldn't support him. Mr. Owens is not an extremist in any way, shape or form. This one issue of abortion is not on top of his agenda.

"If I really felt this guy was a right-wing type, I wouldn't be supporting him. I don't get along with those people, and they don't like me."

That's an understatement. Weil, Bruce Holland and other moderates are in the midst of an angry fight with state party chairman Steve Curtis, who's from the party's religious wing. At the same time Owens is trying to distance himself from Curtis, he's careful to stay in the good graces of the party's right wing. To support his contention that he's not Curtis's golden boy, Owens sent Westword a copy of a March 3 letter from Curtis to the GOP's Central Committee members that blasts Holland and Weil. But in his letter, even Curtis notes: "We need to put our disagreements aside if we are to be successful and elect a Republican governor."

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