Washington • Burgess Owens’ conversion to the Republican Party came after a decade of professional football as he watched Ronald Reagan rise and longed to start his own business.
“I’ve always been a conservative, and I’ve realized that,” says Owens. “I grew up conservative, but I voted as a Democrat because we’d talk [about how] that was the party in our favor. “
He left the NFL a “cocky liberal” but years later he said, “I found myself a very humble and appreciative Conservative.”
Owens, 68, is now the Republican candidate in Utah’s 4th Congressional District after beating three candidates in last week’s primary. He is hoping to topple Rep. Ben McAdams, a new Democrat, in the November elections. This race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the nation. And it puts McAdams, who has long been involved in Utah politics, against Burgess, who is new to the campaign.
Ohio-born, Florida-educated Owens says his life was shaped by a black man who grew up in the deep south – how his father’s ambition to overcome obstacles helped strengthen his character. And how he believes that a strong work ethic and conservative politics are more effective than government handouts that didn’t help people who look like him.
“I happen to be attracted to a party that believes in freedom – No. 1,” says Burgess, “and believes that each of us can succeed if we pay the price for it.
“So what we’re seeing is that more and more black Americans are literally leaving the Democratic plantation,” added Burgess. “I’ve never seen anything like this because of the President [Donald] Trump because the success he has brought to the black community is the lowest unemployment in our country’s history for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and veterans. “
That was before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, of course, and the decline in employment for each category.
Owens is a full supporter of Trump – he put on a red Make America Great Again cap in a protest against Blue Lives Matter on June 20 – for saying the president will “do the job”.
“I support every person, every president who will fight for the American way,” says Owens. “By the way, I have no problem with his tweets. … I look at it very simply. If the tweets drive the nuts, it makes me happy. “
And he got Trump’s confirmation on Friday in one of those tweets. Trump wrote, “As a Super Bowl champion, Burgess knows how to WIN.”
In response, Burgess tweeted, “From a segregated childhood to being approved by the president. It is an honor to live in a country that made this possible. “
It is an honor to have the support of the President of the United States. From a segregated childhood to being approved by the president. It is an honor to live in a country that made this possible. Many thanks to @realDonaldTrump https://t.co/XU7V6pn1av
– Burgess Owens (@BurgessOwens) July 3, 2020
Owens says his campaign will focus on “prioritizing God, country, family first,” and he has election words for democratic leaders that he says have gone so far as to be Marxists and socialists.
“This will result in a very simple decision this time around in 2020,” says Owens. “Do we keep our country, our culture, our way of life? Rule of law, security? Or go the path we now see on the streets of the city centers: chaos, destruction, damage, death, bullying. “
The GOP contender, who still wears his Super Bowl championship ring, was far from his southern roots to find his home in the GOP, Latter-day Saints Church of Jesus Christ and Utah.
From the NFL to WordPerfect
Owens was born in Columbus, Ohio, where his father had relocated to get a degree he couldn’t get due to the then Jim Crow laws in Texas. The family later moved to Tallahassee, Florida, where his father was a college professor.
Owens, who had spent some time in college labs over the summer, eventually sought a degree in biology from the University of Miami, where he was only the third black student to receive a scholarship. Playing soccer was an added bonus, he says, but education came first.
However, football became a livelihood after Owens was drafted by the New York Jets in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft. For safety reasons, he played 10 seasons, including as part of the Oakland Raiders 1980 team that won the Super Bowl.
Towards the end of his professional career, Owens said he converted to Latter-day Saints because of some teammates who shared the faith.
Playing pro didn’t make him as much money as he had hoped, and a business he started with his brother selling electronic equipment to keep track of business expenses failed and caused his first bankruptcy.
He later moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, NY with his children and worked as a chimney sweep by day and a security guard by night.
“That was a very humbling moment,” says Owens. “It was also a very important moment in my life, standing in the basement apartment at the end of the long day, looking outside and just thinking that I knew this wouldn’t be the way because I believe in the American Second chance promise. “
Soon after, a friend told Owens about a job at WordPerfect, a fast-growing computer software company based in Utah. The sales job was in Philadelphia and Owens answered and moved.
But he had a thing for Utah.
“I made a promise with all of my children [they] I could see any college in the country while they were in their freshman year in Utah, “says Owens,” because I wanted them to have a nice soft landing. “
Eventually Owens moved west and settled in Draper.
He founded Second Chance 4 Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children in trouble “start a new chapter and live their American dream,” and embraced the four principles of Owens’s campaign: head, heart, hand, and home .
Owens has also authored several books, including “Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men into Whimpers, Weenies and Wimps” and his most recent book “Why I Stand: From Freedom to Socialism’s Death Fields”.
Documents filed with the House indicate that Owens receives $ 70,000 a year from his foundation, plus income from his books and lectures. A December filing showed Owens with up to $ 5 million owed to the IRS. However, this was changed to $ 6,500 in an addendum published in January. Owens says the original filing was a “big mistake” and most of the IRS debt has now been paid off.
Owens’ rhetoric fits the books, and he doesn’t shy away from the threat he sees from Democrats. He says Americans must do what they can to take our country back from the left.
Owens has never met McAdams.
“I hear he’s a really nice guy,” says Owens. “And I don’t doubt that. But it’s not about Ben McAdams. It’s about the party he authorizes. “
Owens questions Congressman’s votes for the agenda of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McAdams support for the Trump indictment and Pelosi ideology, and Liberal MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom Owens describes as “very anti-American”.
In contrast, the Democratic Campaigns Committee notes Owens’ support for Trump, his plan to jettison the Department of Education, and his opposition to protecting the Affordable Care Act on pre-existing terms. The DCCC also notes that while McAdams fought against resumption of nuclear testing in the West, Owens has expressed support.
“Its out-of-the-mainstream agenda does not suit moderate voters in Utah,” the DCCC said in a memo following Owens’ primary victory.
The arguments preview the general campaign messages Utahns is likely to see, a flurry of Democrats tying Owens to Trump and Republicans tying McAdams to Pelosi. Right now, political handicappers say McAdams is a small favorite. Cook Political Report says the normally conservative 4th district “leans democratically”.
Owens says he can win because his focus is “God, country, family first” – things that all 4th district voters believe in.
“It all comes down to what I really stand for,” he said. “This is something that resonates with Republicans, Independents and Democrats who take the time to listen to it and just think about their future.”