SALT LAKE CITY— Democratic congressional candidate Doug Owens is criticizing a Utah Republican Party email highlighting the involvement of his father, the late Rep. Wayne Owens, in the 1992 U.S. House bank scandal.
"Very disappointed," said Doug Owens, who is running against Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, again this year. "Attacking someone who is not there to defend himself is the worst of politics. I think it's unfair."
But Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said the four-term Democratic congressman from Utah is fair game because Doug Owens has brought him up, including indirectly in a news release this week about his call for greater accountability in Washington.
"My parents raised me to put public service and giving back ahead of personal gain," Owens said in the release, pledging to fight for a proposed law that would keep members of Congress from being paid unless a budget is passed.
The Republican Party's email, featuring pictures of checks written by Wayne Owens on his U.S. House account stamped "RETURNED NON-SUFFICIENT FUNDS," refers to the same statement, followed by, "Really Doug?"
The email goes on to say that Wayne Owens wrote 87 bad checks adding up to $120,000. He was one of 275 House members in 1992 who had at least one overdraft at the bank and was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by the FBI.
Evans said Democrats want a double standard in the high-profile race, recently declared a toss-up by two key congressional ratings entities despite the 4th District's Republican majority.
"If he opens the door to talk about the legacy of his father, then we certainly will talk about the legacy of his father. The bounced check scandal is part of that legacy," Evans said. "You can't have it both ways."
Love's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said the first-term congresswoman has no plans to bring up Wayne Owens. But Hansen said Wayne Owens' role in the scandal is a legitimate topic to raise.
"We've never said anything about him. If (Doug Owens) brings him up and says he wants to be a congressman like his father, then the party is justified in doing what they did," Hansen said.
Owens' campaign has sent an email to supporters from his wife, Cynthia, urging them to contact Love's office to "let her know you want her to apologize to the people of the 4th District for this kind of tactic that doesn't reflect our values."
She said in the email that she was "surprised by how low they were willing to go."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said while it's "dodgy to attack someone who is deceased and can't defend themselves," this situation is more complex.
"Doug Owens has used his father in a positive way in the past. He's made no secret about that connection," Burbank said, and should "at least be prepared at some level for pushback."
But Burbank said he doubted the issue would resonate with Utah voters.
"I'm guessing this is going to be probably a pretty minor event in terms of the campaign," he said. "It mostly seems to be campaign staffers going back and forth."