Lane Evans, the principled liberal House member from Moliine, Rock Island and rural Illinois, died. Perhaps it was ordained in the heavens that Lane’s death came after the election and just before Veterans Day.
Lane Evans will be missed by many. I always felt better, more energetic, after meeting with Lane. We dealt with demanding issues and the outcomes were not always cheerful or satisfactory. Lane Evans– he was always Lane to those who worked with him– pushed the envelope on the House floor and among Democrats. Lane’s ingratiating personality invariably got him an audience with an adversary or issue critic that the self-righteous constantly failed to receive. Lane knew that a quiet voice was heard far better than loud decibels.
Lane Evans gave everything an extra effort. Lane Evans modeled that in his entire public life. That public life included his service as a public interest lawyer serving children, the poor and working families before his election.
Lane Evans was a Vietnam Veteran, joining the Marines in 1969 when he was 18 years old. In 1969 the war raged and Lane served. Discharged honorably in 1971, Lane graduated college and law school. His life as a public servant focused on helping those who needed that extra help..
Elected in 1982, Lane joined the House Armed Services Committee and Veterans Committee. I worked with him on weapons issues, the size of the DOD budget and El Salvador and Nicaragua then raging issues in the Reagan era.
Our best personal conversations were about veterans and the issues they faced when they came home. Dealing with Agent Orange from Vietnam ,PTSD and homelessness among veterans were among Lane’s principal contributions to improving the lives of returning veterans. His efforts never stopped.
I felt keenly that that the anti-Vietnam war movement too often confused criticizing the soldier and not the policy. Lane felt that as he lived it. I brought a modest credential to those conversations. When I headed Common Cause, and we worked with the Carter Administration on civil service reform, I persuaded the those who were fighting veterans preference, including the women’s movement, to include a special preference for Vietnam Veterans. The American Legion and VFW fought that and we lost on the House floor. That fight was a minor recompense for the confusion of the soldier and veterans with the fundamentally wrong Vietnam War.
Social movement liberals need to appreciate how good a politician Lane was. He represented a district that a Democrat won only once since the 1930s. That was in the 1964 LBJ landslide defeating Goldwater. Lane was elected 12 times.
Evans’s legacy includes getting elected, while standing affirmatively and robustly for his principles and having his views respected by his constituents even if they did not always agree with him. He was a prime organizer of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He never shied away from his identifying as a liberal and progressive who respected people by listening to them and by knowing what he believed and was not silent about those beliefs.
The Evans legacy is something that too many Democrats in 2014 failed to heed. They lost their inner core at great cost. They need to learn the Evans legacy and those lessons that Lane Evans lived so beautifully.
November 10, 2014.