Owens has full schedule as term winds down

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens says he is as busy as ever.

The Democrat from Plattsburgh decided in January to retire to spend more time with his family. Since then, the race to replace him has overshadowed the congressman.

In the House, he had a hand in a few high-stakes pieces of legislation recently and is pushing for another he co-sponsored. Owens has been traveling New York’s 21st Congressional District often with the Democratic congressional candidate seeking to replace him, Aaron Woolf.

Owens’ district includes Fulton and Hamilton counties.

“The only thing I’m not doing is campaigning, but doing the job day to day, hour to hour, I’m working just as hard as I did two years ago,” Owens told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in a phone interview.

Five months is all that remains of his term, which ends Jan. 2.

“You know, I think you never feel the impact,” he said of retirement. “That won’t happen until after the election, but I’m continuing to do my job. I have a pretty full schedule in August.”

He recently co-sponsored the Veterans’ Assistance to Lower Unemployment and Enhance Veteran Affairs Services Act, known as the VALUES Act. The bill aims to increase employment for veterans returning home from combat by giving them preference in employment at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I think the idea behind the VALUES Act is to put people in the VA who share the values of the veterans,” said Owens, an Air Force veteran. “I think that is of critical importance. When an experience is described, the person can relate to it. I think that makes them better able to assist veterans.”

Owens also voted in favor of the $16.3 billion VA reform bill, which attempts to correct problems with the department that surfaced this spring, when the media reported veterans had died while waiting for care at VA health facilities. The VA allegedly falsified data to hide long wait times for veterans seeking health care. U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned as a result of the news.

“Clearly, I think two things happened in the VA: One is the confirmation of the new secretary, and the passage of the VA reform bill,” Owens said. “We won’t know for several months if confidence is restored.”

Owens said he is continuing to work on the priorities that he began focusing on four years ago, such as economic development, employment, immigration reform and United States-Canadian border relations.

Owens used to be the managing lawyer at Stafford, Owens, Curtin & Trombley, a law firm in Plattsburgh.

Regarding future plans, Owens said, “Well, I think, number one, just being home with my wife and son, who lives in Plattsburgh with his wife,” Owens said.

He will also have time to travel and see his other children out of state, something that is difficult with his current congressional schedule, he said.

His travel plans include “a number of places in the United States, national parks out West, Florida a little more in the wintertime,” he said.

“At home in the summer, I like to bike, road bike, mountain bike, kayak,” he said.

A couple of months ago, he had a taste of retirement when he kayaked with his family on Owen Pond near Lake Placid.

No matter what the future holds, he plans to spend a majority of his time in Plattsburgh with his family and the community, he said.

“I have not really determined precisely what I’m going to do yet, what job or jobs I may take,” he said. “The key here is that I’m home in Plattsburgh.”

A recent legislative accomplishment Owens noted was his hand in the farm bill, but overall, he said his leadership style will be the most important thing he will leave behind in Congress.

“I think the most important thing that I did was really being a centrist, and show people you could function in Congress as a moderate who is unafraid to vote for the other party,” Owens said. “I think leading in that way was very, very important.”

Matthew Turner is a reporter for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.