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Joe Bowen, former Owensboro lawmaker, has died

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Kentucky LRC
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Former Kentucky state Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro

Former Republican state Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro has died at age 71.

Bowen was the chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and spearheaded attempts to reform the state’s ailing pension systems. He retired in 2018.

Legislators announced Bowen’s death during a committee hearing Tuesday morning.

According to a release from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Bowen died of a heart attack.

Bowen served in the state Senate from 2011 until 2018 and in the House from 2005 until 2006.

Bowen was a partner of Bowen Tire, a business founded by his father in 1949. He was also appointed to the University of Kentucky’s board of trustees by former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

State Auditor Mike Harmon, a former Republican lawmaker who served with Bowen in the House, said he was saddened to hear about his death.

“Joe truly cared about our Commonwealth, and strived to make it better for all. My heart goes out to his family,” Harmon said.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, another former Republican lawmaker, issued a statement on Twitter calling Bowen a mentor and friend.

“I am praying for his family as we mourn this loss to the Commonwealth,” Quarles said.

Bowen drew the ire of teachers and other state workers after filing bills that attempted to change public employee pension benefits in an effort to bring the state’s ailing retirement systems into solvency.

Leaders of the Kentucky Senate’s Democratic caucus issued a statement saying they were saddened by Bowen’s death.

“Although we had our differences ideologically, Joe was a man of conviction, family and faith who was always willing to listen. He had a great sense of humor and will be missed,” the group wrote in the statement.

After his retirement, he co-hosted the “Inside the Circus” podcast, a Republican take on the news out of the legislature.

During a speech on one of his last days in the legislature, Bowen said he was retiring so he could spend time with people that mean the most to him.

“I once heard a preacher say that you need to know who the people are that will cry at your funeral. Those are the people that you know you need to go spend your time with. That’s what I plan on doing,” Bowen said.

This story has been updated.