Josh Owens, a former Butler professor, runs for governor

Josh Owens, a former Butler professor, is running for governor. Photo courtesy of Michael Leppert. 

JOE KRISKO | STAFF REPORTER | jkrisko@butler.edu

When Josh Owens took a job as a professor at Butler University at the young age of 26, neither he nor his colleagues knew exactly where his career would take him. Since then, he has taught countless students, run one of the fastest-growing businesses in Indiana and started a campaign for governor.

Owens is now seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Indiana, a state that has not seen a Democrat as governor since 2005. He is also the first openly gay candidate for governor in the state’s history.

Owens grew up just 30 miles south of Indianapolis in Shelbyville. From there, he went on to study economics at Wabash College and got his master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Owens was looking for an opportunity to return to Indiana in 2013 when a position opened at Butler. He did not expect to go into teaching so young, but Owens soon found himself teaching economics and statistics in a position that would end up having a substantial impact on him.

“It was the most rewarding career experience I have ever had in my life,” Owens said about his time at Butler.

Owens was one of the first professors willing to test out online summer classes for economics and statistics at Butler. During his six years at Butler, he worked with students who were trying to stay on pace for graduation and juggle the various responsibilities that come with being a college student. 

This has helped him to understand these challenges and the factors that are driving up the cost of higher education as he enters his campaign for governor. Some of his recently announced education policies — like requiring Indiana’s public universities to provide 3-year paths to graduation and accept transfer credits from any accredited university — aim to address these issues.

However, the path from being a Butler professor to proposing such policies as a candidate for governor was not so straightforward. Professors Bill Rieber and Hillary Buttrick teach economics and business law respectively, and both worked with Owens during his time at Butler.

Both described being pleasantly surprised when they heard that he was running for governor and never knew he had this sort of aspiration when they worked with him. Nonetheless, they both felt that he has the talent for the job.

“I didn’t know that was something he wanted to do, but do I think he could do a great job at it? Absolutely,” Buttrick said. “He is such a talented person, and I’m sure he could do well in any application.”

Rieber said Owens’ experience as a professor might even be an advantage for him during his campaign because of the need to explain policies and teach as a politician.

“Take Elizabeth Warren — she has been a teacher for many years and it helps her explain her positions,” Rieber said. “That’s one of the reasons she does a pretty good job at it… and same with Josh Owens.” 

Since leaving Butler in 2018, Owens has been running one of the fastest-growing companies in Indiana. As CEO of SupplyKick, Owens said he has been able to grow his diverse set of experiences and gain a better understanding of Indiana’s entrepreneurial community. 

Although he is still involved in a more limited fashion at SupplyKick, Owens now spends most of his time meeting with people around Indiana and continuing the conversation around his policy proposals and ideas.

Owens sees the state as being at a crossroads and hopes that these ideas can move Indiana toward a bright future.

“I look at the state of Indiana that has a really good foundation and that has fantastic people, but we need to make sure that we are continually supporting our communities and all Hoosiers in the strongest ways possible,” Owens said. “And that’s the Indiana that I want to fight for.”

The Democratic primary for governor will be in May 2020.

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