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Tue., Sep. 1
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Owens on unions, Barie


In the days and weeks before his eventual 2009 special election victory, Rep. Bill Owens' friend and longtime colleague stood up for his job creation claims.
Mark Barie, the owner of a company that worked to attract businesses from Canada, said at the time that Mr. Owens was "a first stringer on our teams" to bring jobs to the north country. A strident conservative, Mr. Barie's opinion on Mr. Owens' record as a lawyer and businessman working to attract Canadian companies to the U.S. set him apart from his fellow Republicans. Doug Hoffman and Dede Scozzafava said that Mr. Owens' claims to have created thousands of jobs in the north country were exaggerated.
Fast forward to 2012. Mr. Barie is perhaps the most vocal and prominent critic of Mr. Owens' tenure in Congress. Mr. Barie said he doesn't regret the nice things he said about the man he once called a friend; they were true. What else is true, he said, is that the Bill Owens he knew for 25 years has changed in the two and a half years since he took federal office.
It's a charge that Mr. Owens. D-Plattsburgh, soundly rejects. But he's at a loss to describe the reasons behind the falling out.
When he found out that Mr. Owens would run for Congress, Mr. Barie pledged to be the first one to donate to Mr. Owens' campaign, he said. That didn't happen. Mr. Barie had assumed that Mr. Owens, then a political independent, was going to run as a Republican.
Mr. Barie said he was stunned to discover that Mr. Owens was running as a Democrat. Within months of his taking office, the two stopped speaking, Mr. Barie said.
"I said, 'It's funny, I've been working with you for all these years, and I'm going to work the rest of my life getting you thrown from office,'" said Mr. Barie, now the chairman of the Upstate New York Tea Party who is a frequent and vociferous critic of Mr. Owens in news releases and interviews.
Unlike his promise of a donation, his promise to work toward his political demise has been kept. In May, Mr. Barie called on Mr. Owens to resign from office in the wake of revelations that lobbyists for the Taiwanese government arranged Mr. Owens' trip there, in violation of House ethics rules (Mr. Owens said his staff believed it wasn't doing any wrong).
So what has changed? Mr. Barie said that Mr. Owens has performed a dramatic about-face on unions.
The last time the two spoke was shortly after Mr. Owens took office. Mr. Barie was calling to oppose card-check, legislation that would make it easier for groups of employees to organize into a labor union. Mr. Owens supported card check.
"We both promised it wouldn't get personal," Mr. Barie said. "But his votes have been a real disappointment for me."
Mr. Barie said that in presentations to Canadian companies "paranoid" about U.S. unionism, Mr. Owens explained that employees can vote on membership in secret. But card-check would get rid of the secret ballot, Mr. Barie said.
"This is the attorney who was a first-stringer trying to bring new business to the area," he said. "Now he's gone the other way."
Not so, Mr. Owens said.
"To be honest with you, I have no idea," Mr. Owens said of his break with Mr. Barie. "My view of the world, from my perspective, has not changed dramatically. I have continued to work on trying to bring jobs from Canada. I've followed much the same script from before to after."
He also disputed Mr. Barie's contention that he's flip-flopped on the labor movement.
'People would say, 'What's labor like?' We would answer that factually," Mr. Owens said. "It was not an opinion. It was an answer to a question."
Mr. Owens said that Mr. Barie "declared war" on him at some point in February 2010 — and he accused Mr. Barie of intellectual dishonesty.
Asked about his personal views of labor unions, Mr. Owens noted that several family members have been members.
"So my view of unions has been that they do a good job, they help maintain a living wage for people, which is very important, and there's a great danger in driving down the middle class, driving down wages for the middle class," he said.
And what does UNYTEA think about labor unions?
Don't ask me. Like most of life's important questions, you can just consult the Twitter feed. As I was writing this post, UNYTEA sent a link to this opinion piece from Charles Krauthammer about, as UNYTEA put it, "the beginning of the end for unions."
Mr. Owens is up for re-election on Nov. 6.
And Mr. Barie? He supports his opponent, Republican Matt Doheny.

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