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Former Grand Forks Rep. Mark Owens remembers his contributions to North Dakota – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – Former Rep. Mark Owens, who represented Grand Forks in the Legislature for 16 years, was “very capable” and brought valuable experience to his role in the North Dakota House of Representatives, friends said recently.

Owens, 67, died Sunday, April 28, at his home.

Reps. Mark Sanford and Owens were candidates from the same district in three state House elections, Sanford said.

When Sanford first ran in 2010, he said the two faced “strong competition” for House seats. “I was new to the game and got a little nervous because we weren't working hard enough and whatever. I said something like, “We have to break down these doors.” And he took it very well. He would schedule every afternoon off from work and then leave.”

“When he took on something, he worked hard at it,” Sanford said. The pair “divided the territory” and tried to appeal to voters in person in their homes — and won their races.

Owens served in the House of Representatives from 2005 to 2008 and from 2011 to 2022, representing Grand Forks Distinct 17. He did not seek re-election in 2022 after he was diagnosed with cancer.

“First of all, he was very capable and second of all, he was interestedSanford said. Serving in the legislature “was not a sideline for him. He was interested in technology – he had a background in that area – highway systems and education.”

Owens is retired from the U.S. Air Force and brought technology expertise to his role as a lawmaker, Sanford said.

During his term in Parliament, he served as Chairman of the House Education Committee.

When Owens was tasked with carrying a bill into the House of Representatives, “his bill-carrying skills were outstanding. He provided clarity and understanding with the bills he carried,” Sanford said. “I was on the Appropriations Committee and explaining a budget bill is very different than explaining a policy bill. (Owens' role focused more) on the “why” of what we do here. He did that very well.”

Education “is one of the big issues during every legislative session – whether it's elementary or high school,” Sanford said. “The spectrum takes a lot of time and interest, so I think that was part of his interest in being in this area.”

He speculated that Owens was trying to serve on the education committee “to learn more himself,” Sanford said.

From a personal perspective, Sanford said, since Owens was from Alabama, “he was the butt of some jokes.”…He had at least the significant remnants of the Southern accent and so on. He wasn't afraid to remind us who the best college football team in the country was most years. So his favorite color was obviously Alabama red.”

“It was interesting how he used that foreign language or that drawl without quotation marks to his advantage because he knew how to make fun of himself…” Sanford said.

At the same time, as a serious legislator, he “really did his homework; So when we started the work of the congregation, he made great contributions.”

When contacted by the Herald on Wednesday, state Sen. Scott Meyer, a Republican who represents District 18 in the Legislature, said he was shocked to learn Owens had died.

Meyer noted that he and Owens didn't cross paths too often in the Capitol because they didn't serve on the same committees.

But he remembers the phone call from Owens encouraging him to run for the District 18 seat in March 2016.

“He told me that this is a district that Republicans don't normally win,” Meyer said, “but with a good plan and hard work it is possible.” He was proof of that as he was a representative in District 18 , before moving to South Grand Forks.”

“He was one of the few representatives who caught my eye when I was being urged to run,” Meyer said. “I will always be grateful for Mark’s words of encouragement and what he means to my political career. Without his calls eight years ago, I probably wouldn’t have started.”

Meyer also fondly remembered some of Owens' personality traits.

“He had a good sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to make a joke at your expense with his Southern accent,” Meyer said.

“We will miss him.”

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has reported on a variety of topics, including the latest news in the region and health issues.

Pamela can be reached at [email protected] or (701) 780-1107.

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