Representative Mark Owens (R-HD 60) will talk to anyone on any issue to help his constituents in rural and frontier Oregon.

By Ted Case

Mark Owens speaking with another representative at a meeting

It is hard to keep Representative Mark Owens out of any conversation he wants to be in—and not only because Owens, a 6 foot 4 inch

former football player, cuts such an imposing figure in the state Capitol. (Owens was an accomplished player at Barlow High School. He played in an Oregon high school Shrine football game and received a scholarship offer from the University of Montana, which he declined.)

While Owens’ gridiron days are over, he is making a mark in Salem by staying in the trenches for some of the most high-profile policy discussions in the legislative session.

“My personality allows me to enter into any conversation,” he said. “I try to engage as many people as I can.”

Owens’ House District 60 encompasses all of Baker, Grant, Harney, and Malheur counties, as well as portions of Lake County.

The long road from Crane to the state Capitol started when Owens spent his summers as a teenager working on a ranch in Harney County before moving there as a young adult. He met his wife, Celeste, in Eastern Oregon. He started and currently owns an alfalfa ranch and custom haying business in Harney County.

Quickly immersing himself in local government, Owens found himself on the county planning commission, school board, watershed council, and many other boards and committees.

In 2016, he was elected to the Harney County Court, where his priority was to ensure Harney County could sustain local agriculture while looking for additional business opportunities and economic development for the community. This ultimately led in January 2020 to his serving as state representative for House District 60 when Lynn Findley became state senator.

Owens’ broad public service has helped him develop expertise in areas of critical importance to rural and frontier Oregon, such as education and water policy.

In addition to his work in the state Capitol, Rep. Mark Owens operates an alfalfa ranch in Harney County. Photos by Lynn Howlett

He has made education one of his centerpiece issues during his time in Salem. Celeste is an elementary school teacher in Crane, and Mark still serves on the Crane Union High School Board.

“COVID has impacted children more than anyone,” Mark said. “After a year of distance learning, it may take kids three or four years to catch up.”

Owens took pride in working with his colleagues to get frontier schools such as Crane the opportunity to return to school safely last fall.

From his seat on the House Energy and Environment Committee, Owens has been engaged in countless conversations on energy policy that are crucial to protecting the way of life in Eastern Oregon. This includes legislation to move Oregon to 100% clean energy by 2040, which has been the subject of extensive hearings in the Oregon House of Representatives.

Owens has worked hard to protect rural consumers in the legislation, and appreciates the role electric cooperatives play in rural and frontier Oregon.

“Harney Electric Cooperative is the backbone of our community,” he said. “Their customer base is their priority.” Throughout the years, Harney Electric Manager Fred Flippence has had many conversations with Owens on a range of issues.

“Mark is one of those people that if he says something, you can count on it,” Flippence says. “His word is gold.”

For his part, Owens believes his ability to talk to other legislators and advocates— no matter the political party or where they are from—is the blocking and tackling of the Oregon Legislature, and will ultimately lead to better policy for his Eastern Oregon constituents.

“If I can educate others and be educated myself, it is a win-win,” he said. “But it all starts with having a conversation.”