State Rep. Mark Owens, formerly a Harney County commissioner, is getting his first taste of state legislating as the short session begins this week in Salem. (Submitted photo)

VALE – Mark Owens is the first to admit he will face a learning curve as the short legislative session opened this week.

Owens, a former Harney County commissioner, was appointed to the vacant House District 60 slot on Jan. 21, replacing Lynn Findley. Findley has moved to the Senate.

The House seat had been held by a Malheur County resident for nearly 50 years, dating back to Denny Jones’ election in 1972. Before then, the seat was held by Bob Smith of Burns.

Owens finished his formal orientation last week in Salem and said he is eager to get started.

“I got my badge so I can get into my door and just met with the clerk to learn how to conduct myself on the floor,” said Owens last Thursday.

Owens said he moved to Harney County 20 years ago and he loves the area.

“It has allowed myself and my family to live the American dream in agriculture,” he said.

Owens operates a custom haying business.

Owens said his first steps into politics were tentative.

“I decided to get involved with the planning commission and the (Crane) school board. And then I started to see the opportunities I had,” he said.

Owens was serving his fourth year as a county commissioner when he decided to seek appointment to the House.

Owens said he believes one of his greatest strengths is his ability to find common ground on complex or controversial issues and to work with state and federal officials to the benefit of voters.

He said his top priority is to work for his constituents.

“Learning to be the voice of our people in District 60 is my No. 1 charge,” said Owens.

Owens, 49, said his experience as a county commissioner will help.

“A lot of the issues in Harney County are the same issues in all of District 60,” he said.

Owens said one of his first goals would be to build “relationships with the Republican caucus” in the House.

“I need to understand them so they can help me represent District 60,” he said.

Another goal, he said, will be to build political bridges with Democratic lawmakers “because we are in the super minority. Anything we are successful on will have to be bipartisan.”

Owens said there are a few “black and white” issues where compromise probably won’t be possible.

“They are moral and constitutional and there is no wiggle room,” said Owens.

Those issues, he said, revolve around the Second Amendment, pro-life and freedom of speech.

“But on everything else, we have to build relationships,” he said.

One issue already stirring controversy – is a new version of a carbon emissions limit bill that foundered during the 2019 Legislature. Owens hopes the new legislation can be stopped.

“We have to be strong and hopefully get that to go to a vote of the people where it should be,” he said.

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