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The politics of Owens story


So now that we've got the facts out of the way, let's talk the politics of Rep. Bill Owens' current, shall we say, predicament.
A report in ProPublica concludes that Mr. Owens' December trip to Taiwan violated House ethics rules because it was organized by a lobby shop founded by former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, a Republican of Long Island.
Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, says his staff did nothing wrong; they just got caught up in a gray area. The guy who helped write the law doesn't think so.
So let's break it down by category. First, we have Mr. D'Amato's relationship with Mr. Owens. Then, we have Matt Doheny's reaction to the news. Then, we have a tea party's reaction to it. Then, to round things out, we've got Kellie Greene.
D'Amato and Owens
While Mr. D'Amato and Mr. Owens graduated from the same high school on Long Island, the two didn't meet until years later, when Mr. Owens was in private practice in Plattsburgh. He was a law partner of former Republican state Sen. Ron Stafford, who is now deceased. Mr. Owens was an independent at the time.
Mr. Owens donated $750 to Mr. D'Amato's senatorial campaign in the late 1990s — Mr. D'Amato went on to lose that race.
When Mr. Owens was first elected to Congress in 2009, Mr. D'Amato approached him in their new roles. Mr. Owens, now a Democratic member of Congress; Mr. D'Amato, now the founder of a lobbying operation called Park Strategies.
Online poker was the first subject of the lobbying, Mr. Owens said.
But Mr. Owens said that the trip isn't an indication that he's too tight with D'Amato's firm.
The two spoke via telephone about the trip to Taiwan, among a variety of other issues, Mr. Owens said. But the planning of the trip never came up, and he was never involved in it, he said.
Three of Mr. D'Amato's relatives — including two that work for Park Strategies — donated to Mr. Owens' campaign in the first quarter of 2012. (Mr. D'Amato's PAC hasn't been shy about giving to Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who ousted him in 1998.)
Doheny reacts
A spokesman for Mr. Doheny, a Republican of Watertown, chastised Mr. Owens on the heels of the revelations.
But as they say, this election's going to be all about jobs. So the hit from Mr. Doheny and the defense from Mr. Owens were instructive.
First, from Jude Seymour:
"Bill Owens would rather take a $22,000 trip to a foreign country with his wife than find ways to fix this ailing economy and get constituents back to work. We can do much better." (Emphasis mine.)
And here is the first sentence from Mr. Owens' news release defending his actions:
“Job creation has been and continues to be my top priority for New York," he said.
All right then!
Sure, a $360 daily food bill won't help Mr. Owens relate to the typical north country voter (though he said it was expensive because of the pricing in Taiwan, and that he wasn't eating "steak and caviar." Yes, I asked.)
But could this issue move the needle? Does the guy on the dole care? What about the goat farmer in Hermon? The bus driver in Glens Falls?
The answers to that question will have to be answered by a pundit in a higher class than me, or, ideally, the voters.
Mark Barie and Mr. Owens used to be good buddies, Mr. Barie recalls.
Mr. Barie, the chairman of the Upstate New York Tea Party and an economic development specialist in the north country, worked with Mr. Owens efforts to help the area cope with the loss of an Air Force base. The two had a falling out when Mr. Owens decided to run for Congress, Mr. Barie says.
And now, Mr. Barie wants Mr. Owens to resign. It's not going to happen, but still.
There's no love lost between Mr. Owens and UNYTEA, which is a constant critic of its home-county congressman. If Mr. Owens said "jump," UNYTEA would not say how high, but rather, "Jumping is for socialists."
Greene reacts
I can't seem to figure out Kellie Greene.
She's run a fanatically non-traditional campaign. The Sackets Harbor resident who's trying to win the June 26 GOP primary against Mr. Doheny is working on a shoestring budget. But she's taking this run very seriously — traveling hundreds of miles to every corner of the district to meet with voters, and employing a guy who's the spokesman for the Arizona GOP.
You'd think that Ms. Greene, who presumably lags behind Mr. Doheny and Mr. Owens in the name-recognition race, would wave the dual scandals (Gawker, for Mr. Doheny, and ProPublica, for Mr. Owens) like a crazed Enjorlas raving on the barricade: "One more day, one more hour, one more voter!"
But she has not. And she urged caution in condemning Mr. Owens, saying that UNYTEA went too far in calling for his resignation.
"I'm not willing to throw him under the bus," Ms. Greene said. "I'm willing to give him the opportunity to respond."

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