Hello. I'm Robert Owen, Democratic candidate for Congress in CA23 running against Kevin McCarthy. Opportunity, education, and progress are important issues to me in our communities, but they're also a part of my life story.
A native of Bakersfield, California I attended public school and graduated from Bakersfield High School. I grew up in a household with my parents and my younger sister and step sister. Growing up, my father worked in construction and my mother was a homemaker. When I began junior high my mother went back to college and earned her degree, which she used to become a public-school teacher.
I was raised as much by grandparents as I was by my parents and stepparents. Children of the Depression, my grandparents came to Bakersfield during the Dust Bowl. They instilled in me a strong work ethic. We would get up before dawn to work the field and do maintenance on the farm, working until the sun set. They also taught me compassion and selflessness. They believed that in this land of plenty no one should ever go hungry, and that if you have extra, you have a duty to give back to your community. They were not wealthy people, but they always had room for another at the dinner table. In addition to their three children, they raised foster children as their own, and those kids became family.
After graduating from high school, I wanted to attend college but could not afford it, so I worked in food service, retail and at a local television station. At every turn, I found opportunities were closed to me because I didn’t have a college degree. Following the example of sacrifice and service set by my parents and grandparents, I enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1997 to fight for others. I was trained in the infantry and spent most of my time in Asia, attaining the rank of sergeant. During my four years of active duty, I volunteered for every extra duty I could. When I left the Marines, it took six Marines to assume all of the duties I had managed.
After leaving the Marines in 2001, I turned my attention to my education, graduating from Bakersfield College with an AA degree in psychology, then earning a bachelor's degree in psychology from San Francisco State University with a minor in criminal justice.
During my senior year at SFSU, I interned at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. Kamala Harris had just been elected district attorney, and she set about providing in-depth training on being a prosecutor. I attended all of the presentations and worked almost full time assisting in the newly formed elder abuse unit. I was so inspired by now Senator Harris and the work we did that I decided I would go to law school and become a prosecutor.
While applying to law school I returned home to Bakersfield. I worked at a drug rehabilitation clinic as a counselor’s aide. I then was hired as a social worker for the CalWorks program, part of the Department of Human Services (DHS). During my time at both of these jobs I saw the true face of poverty and illness. Many of my clients at DHS were single mothers just trying to provide for their children. The clients at the rehab were addicted to drugs and just wanted to be free. All of them were poor, had hit rock bottom, and were ashamed but looking to work their way back. I saw how, with support, many of them changed their lives forever. Most of my DHS clients found work and earned enough that they no longer needed assistance. The majority of my rehab clients committed to a life of sobriety and began working and preparing for a future without the need for financial assistance.
In 2005, I began attending the Oklahoma City University School of Law. I graduated in 2008 and was offered a position as an assistant district attorney. I was assigned felony cases prosecuting numerous drug crimes and felonies. In 2011, the recession was hitting Oklahoma and the district attorney couldn’t afford my position. I left the DA’s office to open my own law office in Oklahoma City.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to return to my home in California. I returned to work as a prosecutor in Tulare County. That was when I met the woman I would marry and her wonderful daughter. I returned to Bakersfield that same year, and three years later Elizabeth and I would be married. Recently I started transitioning back into private practice.
Throughout my life, both personally and professionally, I have witnessed how unfairly the poor and middle class are treated. We face criminal laws that disproportionately burden those trying to make ends meet and a judicial system that puts up roadblocks to rehabilitation while over penalizing the slightest offenses. I’ve seen people knocked down and shamed because they didn’t have wealth. I’ve seen the road blocks of access to opportunity. Many of the young men I served with in the Marine Corps came from poverty, and the military was the only way they had to better their lot in life, having to literally risk their lives for a sliver of something better. That’s not right and it’s not fair.
I decided to run for Congress to give a voice to the disadvantaged. People like many of my classmates, who had to choose between quitting college or assuming crippling debt. People like my grandparents, who spent their life savings for insufficient healthcare. People like my mother, who worked as a schoolteacher and had to put off retirement for years when she discovered her Social Security wouldn’t be available until she was 67. These are the stories and the people that motivate me to serve. I look forward to hearing your story, too.