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Congressman-elect Burgess Owens on Issues to Tackle in Office

Image via Daily Herald

“Al Davis used to say, ‘Just win, baby.’ And I tell you that’s what Americans do best. Once we wake up, once we’re engaged, once we know that our culture is at risk, we come together and start communicating. Across-party lines, Democrats and Republicans start to talk, and we rise.”

On November 23rd, Merion West’s Henri Mattila was joined for an interview by Burgess Owens, who recently won election to the United States House of Representative for Utah’s 4th District.

Congressman-elect Owens was a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 1970, where he played until 1979. He was a member of the Oakland Raiders team that won Super Bowl XV in 1981. In addition to his career in the NFL, Congressman-elect Owens has worked in business and as a non-profit executive. He is the author of a number of books, including Why I Stand: From Freedom to the Killing Fields of Socialism.

Throughout the conversation, Congressman-elect Owens explains what his top priorities will be when he enters Congress in January (such as addressing sex trafficking), as well as his views on the state of demographic changes within the Republican Party and why he is optimistic about the future of the country.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Congressman-elect Owens, thank you for joining me here today.

Henri, thank you so much for the invite, and I look forward to chatting with you.

First off, you ran a very tight race in the purple 4th district of Utah against incumbent Representative Ben McAdams, and one week ago you were officially declared the winner. Please accept my sincere congratulations.

Thank you so much, and I just can’t say enough how pleased I am to have the opportunity to serve this particular district. It’s one that I think my message resonates with because I grew up in the same kind of environment back in Tallahassee in the ’60s. All six of my kids and 15 grandkids are here in the district. So believe me, it’s the most important district in the history of mankind in my view.

So we’ll make it work, and I just appreciate the opportunity for those who voted for me. And those who didn’t—I hope to earn your respect. We might not agree on everything, but we have the same end game. At the end of the day, we want to make sure our country moves forward. Our district continues to lead our country in so many different ways, and I just look forward to earning your respect and getting that done.

On that topic, January is fast-approaching when you will begin your freshman term in Congress. What are the main policies that you intend to pursue?

That’s a good question. The tenets that I had highlighted as I went through the process—those things that defined me as a youth and that I’m fighting for now—are four very basic tenets. That is education, faith, the idea of capitalism and the free market, and an opportunity to go out and build our dreams in the family unit. Those are the tenets that promise anyone who comes to this country—no matter what we do, what kind of language we speak, how long we’ve been here—if we tie ourselves committed to those four tenets, we can become part of the middle class. 

Now that being said, the area that I want to focus on first of all is education. It’s very very important that we can make sure that our nation is one in which, like the old saying of Thomas Jefferson, “Ignorant free can never be.” We need to be educated and engage people to know what our freedoms are, what they look like, and where they come from. In terms of the committees I’m looking at, I want to make sure I advocate for the small business owners. I’m a believer that, if you want to look at why our country’s great, why we have such a great middle class, it’s because those folks go out there and take the risk. We don’t hear about them a lot. They envision themselves as moving forward and overcoming obstacles. They pick themselves back up, and I think they’re the true unsung heroes of our nation because they give us the opportunity to build that dream.

Something else I’m very high on, I think our state of Utah can be the first traffic-free state in the Union. I want to make sure that we’re educating ourselves in terms of this dark, dark thing that’s going on in our country: this evil of trafficking of our kids, ladies, and young boys. It’s something that we have to address, something we have to be aware of. My goal is to work with Tim Ballard, Operation Underground Railroad, with state legislators here and officials, and make sure that we educate our families in terms of the threat, and also make sure that we can come up with a model that makes sure those types of predators will never want to step foot in our state. 

Those are the particular areas I’d like to look at. It’s those four tenants I mentioned that I will continue to highlight, that bring us all together by the way, with Democrats, independents, or Republicans. We can all agree that those are very important tenants that we should strive to protect. 

On the topic of trafficking: It’s obviously tragic and everybody knows about it, but it’s not really in the news. Certainly, I haven’t heard about Congress raising the issue in any significant matter over the last few years. Is the problem of trafficking larger and more widespread than people make it out to be? 

Henri, you just nailed it. And that’s the problem: It’s not that we’re not engaged or educating ourselves to it. There are 50 million slaves around the world today—many more than we had during the days of slavery back in the old days. We also have over 10 million children being trafficked. And they traffic not only for sex but for organ harvesting and slave labor. It is hideous, it’s evil, and it’s time for us to really have this conversation. 

In the 1800s, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That book opened the eyes of Americans across the country who had no idea what slavery looked like. They weren’t around it, they didn’t see it, and they had no idea until they read the book. It was a game-changer. It was what got our nation to open our hearts, to have empathy for what was going. The same thing is happening with those predators who are taking advantage of a free nation and the naivety of parents thinking that we’re safe. We just had 50 children being rescued in Atlanta back in August, and yet it’s not hitting the news. 50 children have been abducted and used, and yet we’re not talking about it as if it’s a big deal. It is time for us to wake up. Organizations like Operation Underground Railroad have been fighting this for the last 10 years, and I’m looking forward to not only parents here in this great state becoming aware of it, but learning how we can fight against this hideous trafficking, slavery that is now happening in our day.

I see. When we speak of the trafficking victims, do they come from overseas, from Latin America? Are they smuggled across the border, or are they American children who are being abducted? 

All of the above. The reason why the wall is so important, and this is what President Trump talked about and what Tim Ballard talked about: We have these coyotes that bring these children and these women across the border, and they’re selling them in places all across this country. In these at-risk environments, we have children that do not have parents that end up running away.

And once you run away, you’re off the grid, and people don’t know where you are and what’s happening. Of course, we are one of the top consumers around the world. So you have people literally bringing people bringing these kids and women here to this country. Operation Underground Railroad is addressing this. If you go to my website, by the way, Burgess4Utah, we have a model set up in terms of what we plan on doing and how we’re addressing this. I’m glad we’re having this conversation. 

I’ll tell you my biggest concern: It is when we start talking about this, we have people who bring up things like QAnon. We start talking about things like trafficking and slavery, and all of a sudden the conversations change to something conspiratorial. We cannot allow that to happen. It bothers me to no end when we know there are kids and women and young boys that are going through misery, and then we turn it into conspiracy. If we talk about this evil that’s attacking our society, attacking kids, and it switches to some conspiracy, ask the person who’s talking about it, “Why are you doing that?”

Why not stay focused on this issue that we need to address and make sure that our children are safe no matter where they are, no matter day or night, and no matter what zip code they live in?

So you’re saying there are at least elements on the left side of the political spectrum who think that your advocacy and work to rid the country of sex trafficking and child trafficking more broadly is a right-wing conspiracy theory and it’s a non-issue? Because I wanted to ask some questions about opportunities for bipartisanship that you see possible for your first term, and I thought that this would be an easy win to get most Democrats and most Republicans on board to attack this issue if it truly is as widespread as you say.

I totally agree. This is one of the reasons that I want to do this. The issues that I’m focusing on right now are bipartisan. I truly believe we have in this country good people that are Democrats, independents, and Republicans. My family, 99 percent of them are Democrats. We love each other. We have the same end game. Child trafficking and small business ownership are things that we should be talking about on both sides of the aisle because no matter where we are in terms of our party, we all want to succeed. We want businesses to make it happen. So yes, this is bipartisan. 

In case you find that people are not willing to have this conversation, please take note of who they are and ask them questions. “Why can’t you have this conversation without trying to take it someplace else?” It’s something that’s very serious. Anywhere around the world and throughout this country, slavery is the worst evil we could talk about. We just finished it here in the United States 200 years ago. We still talk about it because we should. It’s an evil. It’s happening today. And that’s the point I want to make. 50 million slaves around the world is something that many people have no idea is happening, and it’s time for us to have this conversation. And I’m willing to bring it to light so we can have these conversations and make a bipartisan process here in Utah so that we can be the model for the rest of our country.

Yes, I think this definitely has an international component. As you said, there are 50 million children around the world or people around the world who are enslaved. I’ve heard similar figures. Especially in Africa, the Middle East, and in South Asia, there is still quite a bit of slavery. I think that in American foreign policy, liberals and conservatives have a history of wanting to help other countries move forward on human rights issues. I think combating slavery in every society in the world is an absolute must from the moral perspective of the United States.

You just nailed in the head. There’s a moral component. 200 years ago, we sacrificed 600,000 American lives to take this blemish off our nation, and we’ve moved forward ever since. No nation that wants to move forward and has a moral fiber about them can stand to let this happen. I’m just thankful that we can now have these conversations and bring it to 2020. Why talk about what happened in 1865 or 1840 when we have 2020 to discuss, and make sure people that live today can have the opportunity of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we all hold dear and think is necessary for free people?

Absolutely, and I think this will require a very crucial component—no matter what, whoever is officially declared the winner of the presidency, we are going to have a divided government. In order to get anything meaningful done, we will have to work with the other side.

This brings to the second topic that I wanted to discuss with you today. Individual people can say what they want about President Donald Trump, but over the last few years, he has delivered some serious results despite substantial opposition from the left, and sometimes from within even his own party.  However, he may have gotten even more done if he had managed to get broader approval for his policies outside of his base. So assuming Donald Trump will no longer be the head of the Republican party, do you think it would serve the Republicans well if they are able to find leadership that proactively works to widen their base of support? In other words, should the Republicans seek leaders who are more respected and liked by the other side than Donald Trump was?

There are a couple of nuances to that question. It’s important to understand that the idea of success has been experienced by every single race that’s come to this country. In the 1960s, there was a black community that led our country; in this segregated community I grew up in, I experienced this myself. They led our country to grow in the middle class. Men matriculating into college. Men committed to marriage, it was 70 percent. The percentage of entrepreneurs was over 40 percent. 50 to 60 percent of black Americans in the ‘50s and ‘60s were part of the middle class segregated communities. So when I talk about this, it is not hypothetical.

What I’ve seen over the years is our community and our nation being turned upside-down by an ideology that is so much against everything I just mentioned. They’re against education, against God, against capitalism, against the family unit. What President Trump has done is he’s a man of his word, he kept his promises. By keeping his promises to every American, particularly black Americans and those at risk, he has opened up this tent. He’s shown America what really brings us together. It’s not our diversity that we should focus on. It’s not how where we came from, our color, our height, our gender. It’s our dreams of being American, being proud of who we are. And he’s done that better than anybody else that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Forget all the words. I’m sick and tired of all these nice, nice words and being articulate and being presidential. At the end of the day, what he did is brought results: the lowest unemployment in the history of our country for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, and veterans. A 40 percent increase in black business ownership, which is enormous, because that’s where the middle class is built. That’s where the dreams are accomplished. 

What are the results of that? We had an increase to 18 percent of black men that voted for President Trump, up from 12 percent. We had a doubling of black women to vote for President Trump, eight percent versus four percent. We had an unbelievable growth in the Hispanic community, over 30 percent. In the gay community, even in places like New York City and California, an increase of voters for President Trump. I’m not into the idea of having him be liked by everybody. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what President Trump’s tweets were. What he gave was millions of people hope and opportunities. What bothers me is when we can have such success, yet people will vote for somebody else because he’s “nice.” Well what about, instead of being just nice, how about getting results? 

I’m just excited to see that in this time in our country’s history, so many folks are now gravitating to belief in our country, pride in who we are, and against the divisiveness that we’ve seen so far on the hard left. And for those Democrat friends of mine and independents and Republicans, when I talk about the hard left, understand we’re talking about leadership.

There’s an ideology of socialism and Marxism that destroyed my community. Literally destroyed my community. We have a community now in the state of California where 75 percent of black boys in the state of California cannot pass standard reading and writing tests. In 13 schools in the city of Baltimore, zero proficiency in math. You have 83 percent of black teen males during the Obama administration jobless, unemployed, soon to be unemployable. These are policies that have brought misery to my race. It will bring misery to our nation if we don’t understand what we’re up against. 

So I’m all for a president who fights against the bullies, who might not do it the way traditional politicians have done it, but traditional politicians have done not very well for many of us. And I’m thankful to see a president who stood by his word, made things happen, and made a lot of enemies. Because when you shake up the old school, some people don’t like it. And I’m okay with that. The key is this: Let’s not worry about personalities; let’s worry about results. If you care about other people, let’s put on our empathy hat. Let’s think about what other people feel when they get hope. And if you truly have empathy, you’re into all the millions of people now that have jobs, have hopes of education, building their families again, and believing the American Dream is truly available to them. If you don’t quite get that and you think the tweet is more important, I just hope you search your hearts a little bit.

Related to that subject, you mentioned how Donald Trump received surprisingly good support among black women, black men, Hispanics. Republicans were seen as forever being the white party, especially under the so-called populism of Donald Trump. But this last election more or less disproved that notion, that it’s actually possible for Republicans to increase their share of the pie, even though they are often referred to as the party of the white man. Do you see this trend continuing in future elections, for more and more minorities coming over to the Republican side of the aisle?

Absolutely. This is why I’m so excited about what I’m seeing. What we’re seeing today is black Americans, Hispanics, and gays leaving the plantation of an ideology, a Democratic Party that believes that we should think with our skin. We’ve been taught that 93 percent voting for one party is okay. We are not monolithic. We think different, we worship different, we have businesses, there’s communists, and there’s capitalists. We are such a diverse race and we should never be looked at as monolithic. For those who do that and to put us in this box, that’s called racism. When people judge and think we should think in a certain way because of our skin color, it’s called racism. We’re breaking out of that, and I think that’s the greatest threat to the hard left. That’s the reason why they want to make sure we keep our walls down, so they can replace the black community that they’ve been addicted to for decades.

They need to have other people coming from different parts of the world that don’t understand our country, don’t love our nation, are not proud to be Americans, don’t know anything about us or our history. Because once people come in and they’re put into that dependency place, then they will vote Democrat. I can tell you that from my experience of watching my community, from that great community of the ‘60s to where we are now. We’re coming back because many of us are saying “enough of this.” We don’t want to be dependent on any party, any politician. We want to vote our values and principles first. So yes, the trend is changing. 

We have flipped 13 seats from Democrat to Republican. Women from Cuba, Ukraine, and blacks. Across the board, it is a diverse group. And the thing about this freshman team I want you guys to keep in mind: Yes we are different. We have different colors, different backgrounds, different races. But we have one thing in common—we love our country, are willing to stand up for it, articulate for it, and talk about how great we are and how great the concept of the American way is as opposed to socialism. That’s what’s called We the People, that it doesn’t matter what our background is. It’s who we are inside that makes it all work.

I understand that is a big part of your message, and always has been: It’s not as much about the policies, but it’s about this idea that America sure has its faults, but it’s fundamentally a good place and we should all be proud of it no matter our immutable characteristics like skin color or gender.

Also to that point, yes, we are all imperfect, and we always will be. We continue to try to figure out how we can become a better person. That is what America is all about. It’s a place that’s built by imperfect people. Only people who don’t quite understand that are the ones willing to look back and point to other people because of their imperfections. They see themselves as being a perfect being today. I don’t know at what age that happened to them.

But they’re the only ones that look back and point at everybody and the mistakes they’ve made, and not look at the great things we’ve done as We the People. We are the greatest country in the history of mankind because of the way we treat each other, because of the way we serve, because when we think outside the box and build our businesses to build our dreams. No one does it like we do. And in the process of doing that, meritocracy is at the greater core of what makes us attractive to other people. As we continue to create our value within, color, race, and gender will become so non-consequential. Let’s get back to the meritocracy, looking at each other inside out instead of outside in, the way God does, and we’ll be again a much better nation.

A number of politicians have recently given their own advice to President Trump on whether or not to concede the election to Joe Biden. Hypothetically, if he called you up today and said, “Burgess, should I concede or should I stay and fight?”

Do you have any advice that you would give to him?

President Trump’s a fighter, he loves our country, and he understands the rule of law. At the end of the day, there are too many questions. 74 million people voted for President Trump. How is it that so many people can vote for President Trump, so many minorities can stand up—more than ever before—and yet we have Vice President Biden who supposedly, based on these numbers, has brought in more votes than President Obama his first time around? How does that work out when you see there was such energy for President Obama and such a lack of support for Biden? My suggestion is what he’s doing already –legal options. Make sure that at the end of the day, that We the People feel comfortable that this was done right. By the way, I think Joe Biden should also take part in making sure that this was done right. Just like we did with Gore and Bush, I invite the Biden team to take part and make sure that we all feel this was legal and done correctly.

To conclude the interview, I’d like to end on a more optimistic note. There’s so much negativity right now everywhere, all over the airwaves; everybody’s down about something so I want to end on a more hopeful note. As you enter your freshman year in Washington in a couple of months, what are you most hopeful and optimistic about? 

I know my history, Henri, and this is what gives me such cause to feel blessed. I know that every single generation, we get better at not only looking at each other and serving each other but understanding what our country is capable of. I’m very excited that We the People had so much engagement this time around. We made sure that the conversation of socialism and our American way of capitalism is now on the plate, and we voted to go in the way of American culture. The American people have always come through. We are a people of optimism. We dream, we think about our family, our businesses, our vacation, our memories, our retirement, and sometimes we forget that there’s evil at the door. Until things happen like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 or this last year with so many businesses shut down. We couldn’t go to church. Schools are still closed down. We’re realizing now, as Americans are waking up, that it’s something with which we can engage ourselves. We need to take time to make sure that our country’s values and culture remain intact. 

And I tell you, I’m so optimistic. When Americans wake up, we’ll do something that I can summarize in three words. Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.” And I tell you that’s what Americans do best. Once we wake up, once we’re engaged, once we know that our culture is at risk, we come together and start communicating. Across-party lines, Democrats and Republicans start to talk, and we rise. We’re not each other’s enemy. Yes, we do have an enemy called socialism and Marxism, but together We the People will come to work toward making sure our country continues to be the freest in the history of mankind. Just know we’re now awake and sometimes it takes tough times for us to do that.

Go back to the comment that someone said when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor: “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.” That’s what the American people are. So get ready for the good times as we wake up, educate ourselves, and start communicating to make sure our country stays on track. I’m excited about being part of that process.

On that note, Congressman-elect Owens, this was a wonderful conversation. I personally learned a lot about your platform and your policies and hope to have you on again.

Let’s do it again. This is how we educate ourselves, so take your platform, take your dreams. I’ll add mine, and we’ll make sure people get a chance to know another point of view, and I look forward to that.

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