Owens, 53, was born and raised in Panguitch and likes to say he was one of the few, if not the only, Democrats in town. He received a law degree from the University of Utah in 1964.

He served as administrative assistant to former Sen. Frank Moss, D-Utah, for seven years. In 1968, Owens was Robert Kennedy's Western States coordinator on the senator's presidential campaign. In 1969 Owens returned to Washington, where he became administrative assistant to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.In 1972 Owens won his first attempt at elective office, unseating former GOP Rep. Sherm Lloyd in the old 2nd District, which included Salt Lake County and southern Utah. Owens sat on the House Watergate Committee, which held hearings on impeachment of former President Nixon.

In 1974 Owens attempted to move up to the U.S. Senate but was defeated by then-Salt Lake Mayor Jake Garn. From 1975 to 1978 Owens served as a mission president for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Montreal. He returned to the U.S. House in 1986 and was re-elected in 1988.

Owens is married to the former Marlene Wessel; they have five children and two grandchildren.