U.S. Rep. Bill Owens held a telephone town hall meeting with North Country constituents Wednesday, Feb. 26 to discuss issues like the farm bill, military spending and the minimum wage, but callers kept coming back to one thing: how sad they are he's retiring.
During the one-hour call-in session, about a quarter of the 20 or so people who asked questions told the Democratic three-term congressman from Plattsburgh they were sorry to see him go or that they didn't want him to retire.
Judith from Queensbury (last names weren't given) had a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership - a trade agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore - but she prefaced it by saying she was sorry to hear the news.
"I thank you for your service, and I'm sorry you're not running again," she said.
John from Mineville said he was saddened Owens would not run for another term because he has been a "great advocate" for veterans.
Owens, a lawyer and an Air Force veteran who served as a captain at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, has been in the House of Representatives since 2009. He stuck to answering the issue-based questions until Demilt of Potsdam pressed him with a personal question.
"I was wondering if you would think about reconsidering," Demilt asked. "You have the characteristics, as far as I'm concerned, that's really necessary in this government that is so polarized, like reasonableness and sensibility and saneness. To lose that, especially for us up here in the North Country, it's a tough thing to go through. I hope you would reconsider."
"Thank you for those kind thoughts," Owens answered. "I started this conversation with my family on Thanksgiving, but I had two of my children and my wife with me. And then we finished it up over Christmas and didn't really make a decision until New Year's Day."
Owens and his wife Jane have three grown children. He is 65 years old.
"(It was) a tough decision, but I just felt it was time. It's better for me to be home. I think that is important. You know, this was really a family and very personal decision."
Owens said he hopes his successor takes the same approach he has brought to Washington.
"I'm hopeful whoever follows me will not necessarily agree with me on every issue, but take that demeanor to Congress of listening and trying to be reasonable."
Owens said in January that neither personal health issues, campaign funding nor partisan bickering played a role in his decision to retire.
In the race for the New York's 21st Congressional District, Aaron Woolf of Elizabethtown is currently the only Democrat running to replace Owens, and is the choice of the Democratic Party's county chairs. The Republicans in the race are Matt Doheny of Watertown, Joe Gilbert of DeKalb Junction, Elise Stefanik of Willsboro and Jamie Waller of Lake Pleasant, with Stefanik being the county chairs' choice. Green Party candidates Matt Funiciello of Glens Falls and Donald Hassig of Colton are also running.
Owens has not yet endorsed a candidate.