Sunday, October 12, 2003

Candidate tired of being known for his millions

By Dylan T. Lovan
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Charlie Owen says his father's legacy - and not his own millions - has lured him back into politics and onto the gubernatorial ticket of Democrat Ben Chandler.

Owen, 65, said he agreed to become Chandler's lieutenant governor candidate "for a very simple reason, and that is to make a genuine difference in my state on as wide a basis as I can."

His adoptive father, James Owen, a former dentist in Lexington, spent years traveling to eastern Kentucky twice a week to provide free dental care to poor Appalachian families. James Owen died in 1968.

Much of Charlie Owen's political life has been defined by the millions he's made in cable television ventures and real estate.

But he said his father's work with the poor has guided his life in politics.

"It was really a labor of love, and enormous when you think about the commitment that he had to what he was doing, and that's why I first went into government," Owen said in an interview. "And now at another time in my life I want to go back."

Within the last week, Owen committed $500,000 to the campaign and didn't rule out giving more.

Owen says he would be Chandler's "right hand" if elected.

"Ben and I have agreed to certain things, that I'm going to run economic development for the state; we've lost 60,000 jobs in the last 21/2 years, and it is very important that we have an economic growth plan that will allow us to create more jobs and better jobs."

Owen's experience in state government began with his stint as executive director of the Kentucky Crime Commission from 1967-1974. During his tenure, the commission set up the state's first penal code, minimum training standards for police officers and the state medical examiner's office.

Former Kentucky Gov. Ned Breathitt, who appointed Owen to the crime commission, said he has a "high opinion" of Owen.

"He's a good running mate. And he's well qualified as an experienced businessman," said Breathitt, who added that Owen was credited with much of the crime commission's success.

After leaving the crime commission, Owen went into private law practice and then entered the cable television business, setting up cable franchises and eventually selling his interest in them.

Owen ran losing efforts for the U.S. Senate in 1998 and for Congress in 1994. He also was Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's choice for campaign chairman in Kentucky during the 2000 election.

Owen said he's grown frustrated with being labeled a big bucks candidate, a label he said detracts from his experience.

"It's maddening when all these people write about me as millionaire Charlie Owen." He said that "ignores everything in my background, and the motivation of why I would do this."

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