My boyhood political hero was a guy named Dan Evans. The rare Republican candidate elected in the Democratic landslide of 1964, Evans served three terms as governor of Washington. Upon the death of Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson in 1983, Evans was appointed to the open Senate seat and then easily won a special election to complete Jackson’s term.
Nicknamed “Straight Arrow,” Evans was the kind of public servant Americans desperately need today. He was a principled pragmatist who believed the duty of a politician was not to make speeches about the evils of government but to make government work effectively for the people. He collaborated with centrists in both parties to pass landmark legislation that boosted the economy, improved education and protected the environment. Rather than kowtow to extremists, Gov. Evans famously drove John Birch Society activists out of his state’s Republican Party.
Hugely popular, Evans could have won another term in the Senate, but he chose not to run. Congress was handicapped by too much political posturing and debilitating partisanship, he said, and he had better things to do with his life and career.
That was in the late 1980s. I would be curious to know what he thinks about Congress now.
Partisanship has devolved to bitter acrimony. There is more grandstanding than ever, but very little coming together on common ground for the common good. The sort of right-wing kooks who were roaming at the fringe of the GOP during Evans’ years as governor are now driving the party agenda. Many of them are actually duly elected members of the House and Senate. Their rigid ideology is a huge roadblock to getting anything done at a time when so much needs to be done.
Evans, still active at age 87, is one of the last of a distinguished breed that has been driven to political extinction: progressive Republicans. Heirs of Theodore Roosevelt, they were not identical to liberal Democrats, no matter what their detractors on the right may say. They held their own important place in American politics and we are a lesser nation without the benefit of their sane counsel.