JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Incoming Rep. Bill Owen served in the 81st General Assembly in the early 80s before beginning a career in banking. Now, 40 years after his first term, Owen is returning to the statehouse for the 2021 legislative session.
“As my banking career was winding down, I felt that I was not at the point where I was ready to just stop being involved in the community,” Owen told The Missouri Times. “I thought of different options, but I kept coming back to the state legislature. The previous representative was terming out just as I was retiring, so I went around the district and talked to constituents, and after getting a strong response, I decided this would be the next phase of my life.”
The Springfield Republican said he first entered the House during a particularly volatile time for his district.
“It was a district that switched parties four consecutive elections, and each time somebody was defeating an incumbent: I defeated an incumbent and then was defeated by future Gov. Bob Holden,” he said. “At that point, I was into my banking career so I focused on that for a while until my retirement. Now I’m looking back at my time in the House and what I accomplished while I was there and thought I would try it again.”
One of the biggest changes Owen said he has seen so far was in party lines since his exit in 1982. While Republicans have maintained a majority in the state over the past few elections, Owen said that supermajority was a surprise compared to the state’s makeup during Gov. Kit Bond’s second term.
“When I served in the 80s, there were as many Democratic state representatives as there were Republicans,” he said. “Jefferson County was all Democrat, the Lead Belt was all Democrat, southeast Missouri was all Democrat — so many places that are all red now, it’s another factor that’s dramatically different now. Even the leaders of the legislature were rural Democrats. There was a dominance of out-state moderate Democrats that just doesn’t exist anymore; I was stunned all the Democratic legislators are in the cities now.”
Owen said the appropriation process had also changed over the years. When he was first involved in the legislature, the speaker implemented five appropriations committees to handle different sides of the process. The budget the legislature deals with also ballooned over the years — Owen said the legislature appropriated a mere $4.1 billion for the 1982 fiscal year.
Technology was another big change over the years, Owen said. While the voting process and the LED board remained much the same as they had been 40 years ago, the computers on every desk were a sign of transformation.
“Personal computers were just coming out when I was here last,” he said. “One of my freshman colleagues got one back then, and we were all watching him unpack it trying to figure out how he could possibly use it. We had no conceptual idea at the time so technology had not reached the legislature then.”
Owen said he served with family members of at least two current legislators his first term: Mark Sharp’s father and Hannah Kelly’s grandfather served alongside him in the 81st General Assembly.
Financial laws are still his focus in the legislature: The incoming HD 131 representative pre-filed two bills ahead of session, one to authorize the city of Springfield to create a land bank, and another to clarify the statutes on consumer loans.
Owen said he ultimately hoped to bring a different perspective to the ever-evolving General Assembly next year.
“One of the things I thought about is how things have changed and the perspective I can bring with me,” he said. “I hope I can bring some historical perspective with some of this. Some people say because of term limits we lose that, but I thought this was a way I could contribute from the perspective of having been around back in those days.”