JOHN DAY — State Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, answered questions and talked about various topics Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Squeeze-In Restaurant and Deck with roughly a dozen Grant County residents.

Owens summarized the bills he introduced during the legislative session, his committee assignments, weighed in on the crowded gubernatorial race and touched on the proposed River Democracy Act, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

Owens told the group that he introduced three education-based bills last session. He said each centered around school choice.

“I honestly feel that some competition even in education is good,” Owens said. Owens said while schools have good teachers and staff, sometimes a school is not a good fit for a student, and parents should have options. Owens said he would like to see a voucher system. A voucher program allows parents to receive funds to use toward the cost of private school.

According to one of the constituents, the concern around voucher programs is the overall quality of public education if students defect to private schools.Owens said he believes most families would likely keep their kids in public education. However, he said that should a district start losing students to private schools, it must figure out why kids leave.

Owens said if everybody were to receive the same amount of voucher, there might be higher private school enrollment numbers, but hopefully, public education would “step up.”

Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer asked Owens about Senate Bill 774, which Gov. Kate Brown signed in August, suspending essential skills testing for high school graduation for the next three years. The essential skills graduation requirement was suspended during the pandemic to assist students who had a year of distance learning. However, the bill’s proponents took it beyond the pandemic.

Owens, who served as chair of his local school board, said the bill threw out the essential skills testing requirement until 2024 and formed a committee to review what type of competencies should be required.

Owens said he supported reviewing competency requirements and added that he does not support standardized testing.

According to Owens, the state should have varying high school diplomas in different areas, including career and technical education and accelerated learning.

“Not everybody’s fit for college,” Owens said, “but everybody should have the opportunity.”

Owens added that he did not vote for the bill because it did not replace the existing competency requirements with something else.

“I voted no because I thought it was a bad bill,” Owens said, “but I actually liked the premise. We need to look at education in the state of Oregon and how we can make sure every student has the opportunity to succeed.”

Looking ahead to next year’s elections, Owens said the chance of getting a moderate Republican elected governor is excellent. However, he noted that one party ruling for long periods is not good — no matter what party has a majority.

“We need to have checks and balances,” Owens said.

Owens said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a moderate Democrat who will run for governor under no party’s banner in 2022, would be a viable candidate, noting her pro-life stance.

Owens also added that he would run for re-election to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2022.

Saying, “I’m not a political animal by nature,” Owens lamented the level of partisan polarization in politics today.

When he got to Salem, Owens said, he thought that policy would not go through a political lens. But, unfortunately, he added, the country and the state have come to the point where that is not the reality.

“We live in the best country in the world. We’re still going to live in the best country in the world two years, four years, even six years from now,” Owens said. “But get off social media and hug your family, and go talk to your neighbor.”