Bill Owens: A Texan by Birth, He Is Now Governor of Colorado, Where He Epitomizes the Libertarian and Conservative Politics of the West Perhaps Better Than Any Other Elected Official in the Nation

The American Enterprise, July-August 2004 | Go to article overview

Bill Owens: A Texan by Birth, He Is Now Governor of Colorado, Where He Epitomizes the Libertarian and Conservative Politics of the West Perhaps Better Than Any Other Elected Official in the Nation


Colorado governor Bill Owens has held the line on state spending, created the most comprehensive school voucher plan in the country, gone to the mat against powerful environmentalist special interests, and pushed ahead on road and transit projects to clear up the state's worsening traffic. Through his newly formed Center for the New American Century, he is now working to advance his views on the national level.

A Colorado state legislator and treasurer before becoming governor, Owens first won election in 1998 and was returned to office by a record majority in 2002. A business consultant for 20 years before entering politics, he moved out of the Colorado governor's mansion to shelter his children from the media spotlight. Bill Owens spoke with TAE associate editor Eli Lehrer in Washington, D.C.

TAE: Are Western Americans politically and culturally different from other Americans? Specifically, is there a libertarian "Don't Tread On Me" aspect to Western politics?

OWENS: There is. In some respects it's self-selection: People who moved there from other parts of the country often uprooted themselves specifically for the space and liberty the West offered. Not only in the pioneering days, but more recently. I myself am not a native of Colorado, I moved here. In fact, when I ran for governor there were five candidates in the race and none of us were native to Colorado. So I think the West is different not only because of its wide open spaces but because it tends to attract people who are more liberty-loving, more individualistic, and less dependent upon government.

TAE: Do people in Colorado tend to feel they're more a part of the West coast or more a part of the middle-American heartland?

OWENS: They feel that they're more a part of the American heartland. Coloradans would not consider it a compliment to be lumped in with the West coast.

TAE: Why not?

OWENS: Largely, they have a problem with California. Colorado is part of the Rocky Mountain West--a band of states very different from the West coast--not as liberal, and more open to public use of public lands, for instance.

TAE: Do Western schoolchildren, particularly those in Colorado, still thrill to learn about Lewis and Clark, the Alamo, the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails? Are these things still part of the shared cultural memory of the region?

OWENS: You know, I'm afraid that the answer is probably not as much as I'd like. In many respects public schools aren't g that shared cultural memory. They are teaching the values of "diversity" at the expense of that history. I'd be surprised if Colorado school children really spend much time on the Alamo or the settling of the American West, except insofar as it relates to mistreatment of the American Indian. There's room for both subjects, so I'm hoping we can start to once again use our public schools to pass on to future generations those shared values. While diversity is important, it's also vital to understand our commonality.

And diversity needs to be properly defined. At the college level I'm asking Colorado's higher education system to make intellectual diversity on campus a priority. And what's missing on many campuses today are non-liberal views. During the 1970s, I attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and when the L.B.J. School invited me back as an alumnus to speak to the students, I told them I never learned anything at the school about the real challenges of practical politics I Paced over the following two decades. We didn't discuss the balanced budget. We didn't discuss the fact that the Soviets could be defeated. I haven't been invited back to the L.B.J. School since.

TAE: You've passed the most comprehensive school choice plan in the country--a plan that provides vouchers to most lower-income families that want them. Is school a choice plan this broad appropriate for all states? …

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