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NIELSON VOWS TO BE `1-MAN TRUTH SQUAD’ AGAINST OWENS

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Retiring Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, decided Thursday to turn up the heat again in his feud with nemesis Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.

He declared himself "the one-man truth squad against Wayne Owens," pledging to scrutinize every public comment that Owens makes in his re-election campaign - and to cry foul loudly if he feels Owens contorts his record."For example, in the last election, Mr. Owens claimed he was a friend of small business," Nielson said. "But he is the only member of the (Utah) delegation who never at least once won the friend of small business award, and he has the lowest voting score for small business in the delegation."

A response from Owens was requested but not received.

The move is the latest in a series of attacks and counterattacks between Owens and Nielson in the past month, which have been nothing short of a Punch and Judy show.

Nielson started the slapping when he intentionally violated House rules to say Owens in previous years had refused to sign a petition - whose names are supposed to be kept secret - to allow a House floor vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment. It had been bottled up in committee.

Owens signed the petition this year, but Nielson thought Owens was taking too much credit for the bill in his press releases considering his past actions.

Owens called Nielson's attack "unprofessional." He then gained revenge by essentially stealing a bill that Nielson had worked on for years to declare the Colorado River's Westwater Canyon near Moab a "wild river," sort of a water-and-beach wilderness area.

He did that by introducing his own Westwater bill. Since Owens is a Democratic member of the Democratic-controlled House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee that will work on the issue, he is virtually assured of having his bill passed instead of Nielson's - giving him credit on the topic.

Owens introduced that bill just moments after Nielson left the country last week for a trade mission in Iraq - so Nielson himself couldn't respond to it, although his staff called it "a stab in the back."

Back in the country this week, Nielson called Owens' action "petty" - then announced he is forming his one-man truth squad as his retaliation.

"I have a long and excellent memory about what has happened back here," said Nielson, a former statistics professor who is retiring from Congress this year. "I feel very comfortable in matching my memory against Wayne's."

He added that since he intentionally violated rules to "blow the whistle" on Owens about the Balanced Budget Amendment, research by his staff showed Owens had revealed his stand himself anyway. So Nielson says now he technically did not violate rules, but wouldn't mind doing so to reveal Owens' actions.

"Wayne says it is unprofessional of me to tell the truth," Nielson said. "I don't like hypocrisy. And to sponsor a bill (the balanced budget amendment) but not allow a vote on it is hypocrisy."

Owens has said he did not previously sign the discharge petition to bring the amendment to a floor vote because House leadership had promised committee hearings and action.

Nielson said most of his "truth-squad" activity will wait until after the Republican primary is decided on Sept. 11.

When Nielson was asked if the feud is making it difficult for the delegation to work together on important bills, Nielson said the only major bill he is still working on with Owens is to raise the debt ceiling on the Central Utah Project to allow its completion.

"It has to pass this year. It is so important that we will all put our personal feelings aside for it," he said.

He adds, ironically, that he personally likes Owens, finds him to be a gentleman and notes Owens even sent Nielson's wife flowers when she was recently in the hospital. "He is a nice guy. I just don't like his voting record," Nielson said.

Likewise, Owens has praised Nielson for being astute and hard-working - but said every six months or so Nielson feels the need to attack him unprofessionally. So Owens said he wanted to show Nielson he must pay a price for that.