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UTAHNS SHOULDN'T COUNT OWENS OUT YET

Wayne Owens has seen some bad political times before - reaching the bottom in 1974 when he lost a U.S. Senate race, in which he was at one time ahead in the polls, and 1984 when he lost the governor's race.

But it's hard to recall a time when the Democratic House member has been kicked around more than he has this week.First, Owens' House bank overdrafts have dominated the news.

Then a national taxpayers group slammed him for slightly exceeding his allocated use of the frank - the congressional free mailing privileges.

Finally, it was discovered that Owens got in a mess with property taxes in the early 1980s, the result being the taxes weren't paid on time one year while he battled a title company over property taxes that went unpaid by the property's previous owner.

Owens is arguably the best politician this state has produced in some time. Even in the races he's lost he handled himself well. He won the 2nd Congressional seat in 1986 running against a popular GOP county commissioner and won re-election in 1988 and 1990 in impressive campaigns.

Some are saying that the House bank scandal and other financial problems will sink Owens this year, especially since he's leaving the relatively safe haven of the 2nd District to seek a statewide office again - a forum in which he's never been able to win.

But those naysayers may be too quick to the draw.

First, November is still far away. While Owens' political opponents vow that the people won't forget his bank problems - the catch phrase is that everyone can understand bounced checks, since everyone has had some - voters have proved in the past that they can forgive, or at least forget.

Second, as more and more people come to understand how the House bank worked, and its history, the more open-minded will likely see how Owens and other House members got in the mess they did.

Finally, all this talk about anti-incumbency has yet to translate into action. Yes, an incumbent U.S. senator and two congressmen were defeated in a recent primary. But remember 1990. There was a lot of anti-incumbent talk then, too, and more than 95 percent of U.S. House members seeking re-election won that year.

Owens himself admits that his recent problems will cost him. He anticipates a drop in the public opinion polls - where he has been steadily gaining support since last October. But he also predicts he'll come back and win in November.

His great problem is the statewide nature of his Senate race.

For a Democrat to win a statewide race in Utah he has to be squeaky clean, no baggage. He also needs some help in the form of a poor or poorly funded Republican challenger.

Owens will have some baggage this year, unfortunately for him. And it's likely he won't have a poor challenger - the Republicans have a pretty good field of candidates - or a poorly funded challenger - especially if Joe Cannon, who has already spent a million dollars on the race, is the Republican nominee.

Assuming Owens gets past Democrats Doug Anderson and Kyle Kopitke and wins his party's nomination, he'll have a tough general election ahead. But don't count him out already.

Owens has proved he's a fine campaigner. He can only hope the bad publicity he's been getting this week will fade from the public's mind.