Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lane Evans, Comfort Women Advocate in Congress, Dies at 63

None of the obituaries written about former Congressman Lane Evans (D-IL) note that he originated the Comfort Women resolution. All mention he was a dogged advocate for his fellow veterans, but not even The Washington Post nor The New York Times nor the White House recognized that through four Congresses, starting in 2001, he introduced four resolutions asking the Government of Japan to acknowledge and apology to the Comfort Women--sex slaves to Imperial Japan's military. An 2001 Los Angeles Times op ed pointed out Evans' principled act in contrast to US government efforts to protect Japan from being held accountable for its war crimes.

In 2006, a revised version of his resolution, H Res 759, finally made it through the House International Relations Committee. This resolution was the foundation of Congressman Mike Honda’s H Res 121 that passed the full House. Mr. Honda (D-CA) took up the cause after Mr. Evans retired in 2006 for health reasons. 

To sign his memorial book and find out about funeral arrangements contact Esterdahl Mortuary, Moline, Illinois.
U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., was elected in 1982 to serve the people of Illinois' 17th District. He was 31 years old. Mr. Evans is survived by three brothers.

Lane Evans leaves behind a legacy of public service
QuadTimes, November 06, 2014

Former U.S. Rep. Lane Evans was remembered Thursday as a gentle soul who worked ceaselessly to help veterans and the common man in a 24-year political career.

Evans, who battled Parkinson's since 1995, died Wednesday night. He'd represented the 17th Congressional District in Illinois for parts of three decades and was a hero to area Democrats on both sides of the Mississippi River.

He was 63 years old and had been living at the Hope Creek Care Center in East Moline.

In a statement late Thursday, President Barack Obama praised Evans' work on veterans issues and noted his early support for him.

"Above all, Lane was an American hero, a dear friend and a beloved public servant of the people of Illinois. Michelle and I extend our thoughts and prayers to Lane’s family and friends, and the people he represented in Congress who loved him so dearly," the president said.

Phil Hare, the former congressman who was also Evans' longtime district director, said he got the call late Wednesday night informing him of his friend's passing. Hare said he saw Evans last month when U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year, also paid a visit.

"I was fortunate to even know him, much less work for him," said Hare, who succeeded Evans and was close to him for years.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who entered Congress the same year as Evans, issued a statement saying, "Illinois lost one of it kindest, most caring public servants."

Durbin said that the degenerative neurological disease "trapped (Evans') body but never restrained his great spirit," and he concluded with a phrase that had long been a campaign rallying cry for the congressman's supporters: "Thank heavens for Lane Evans."

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, the Democrat who now represents the 17th District, said, "Lane will be sorely missed by all who he touched, but his legacy of service will never be forgotten."

Jerry Messer, a longtime friend and former president of the Quad-City Federation of Labor, remembered Evans as a man who always had time for constituents — so much so that having a quiet lunch at a public diner meant having to go to the Iowa side of the Quad-Cities.

Even then, Messer said, Evans didn't dine alone. "His constituents, every one of them, were his best friend," he added.

Veterans' friend
A former Marine who served during the Vietnam War, stationed in Okinawa, Evans mostly made his mark in Congress by seeking to help war veterans suffering the effects of Agent Orange and by working to advance legislation to ban landmines.

He was a longtime member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and he nearly rose to its chairmanship twice. He challenged a sitting chairman in 1994 and lost.

In 2006, he was the ranking Democrat, when his party won control of the House. But, with Parkinson's having exacted a greater impact on his health, Evans had by then already announced he would retire from Congress at the end of the year.

A legal aid attorney from Rock Island, Evans was swept into office in 1982 at the age of 31, when the country's economy was suffering and the midterm elections served as a backlash against the new president, Ronald Reagan.

Evans defeated Republican Ken McMillan of Bushnell, who was the party's nominee after he won a surprising primary victory over Tom Railsback of Moline, the incumbent congressman at the time.

Evans won the general election with 53 percent of the vote.

He was re-elected two years later, with an even higher percentage than two years earlier, as western Illinois suffered the devastating impacts of the farm crisis.

Preferred 'populist'
Evans, who was often called a liberal but preferred the term "populist," built a record of opposing Reagan-era policies. The 1986 Almanac of American Politics said he had "one of the strongest anti-Reagan voting records in the House."

It added he was "a congressman to watch."

Evans was an unapologetic backer of government programs such as welfare and Medicare, voting against GOP efforts to revamp them. And he organized like-minded lawmakers in the House.
In an interview Thursday, Harkin recalled that he, Evans, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and Maryland state Sen. James Rosapepe came up with the idea for the populist caucus in the House, and that after the Iowan went to the Senate, Evans kept it going.

"He was a kind person and, for a Marine, he was a gentle person," Harkin said. "He had no bluster. He wasn’t given to tub-thumping speeches. He had an inherent goodness about him that everyone recognized.”

Evans often faced criticism from Republicans who said his liberal voting record didn't fit the district that included wide swaths of rural areas. Evans voted against against trade agreements such as NAFTA and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

That drew criticism from business and some agricultural interests, but it endeared him to labor unions, particularly in an area of the country that was undergoing hard times and whose blue-collar economic roots were undergoing transition.

Evans remains so beloved by area unions that pictures of him still hang in some of their labor halls.

Bustos said she was at a union hall in Sterling earlier this week and a person there asked that she supply a picture of herself for their wall. However, she said, another person quickly added, "Make sure you don't remove Lane's picture."

Still, it was Evans' work on behalf of veterans and other military matters that marked his tenure.

In 2000, only five of the 22 bills he introduced were not related to military or veterans issues, according to Congressional Quarterly.
It took years to get benefits extended to the victims of Agent Orange, but Evans persisted.

In the mid- and late-1990s, he pushed to draw attention to illnesses being experienced by Gulf War veterans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement that on a range of veterans issues, "Lane was always in the lead."
Evans also partnered with Sen. Pat Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, to push for a ban on land mines.

Republicans who ran against Evans were critical of his votes against defense spending bills, particularly because they said that hurt the Rock Island Arsenal.

He also was one of the Democrats who voted against the authorization to go to war against Iraq in 2002. He also voted against the first Gulf War in 1991.
The criticism that he was anti-military didn't stick.

Evans was able to win re-election in the Reagan era. Even in the 1990s, when the Quad-Cities lost hundreds of Arsenal jobs and he faced three battles for re-election that, at the time, were historic for the amount of money poured into the race, he emerged victorious.

In addition to his work for veterans, Evans' office was always praised, even by rivals, for its constituent work.

After 2000, Evans never faced any real electoral challenges, but as the Parkinson's took a greater toll, he had other difficulties. He missed votes and, after the 2006 primary had passed, announced that he would retire.

At the end of that year, Evans recalled his life in politics and said he wasn't through with it. "It never really leaves you," he told the Quad-City Times.

In fact, Evans was an early supporter of President Obama's. And in Chicago, on the night when Obama was elected president in 2008, Evans was there, meeting privately with the president-elect just hours before he went to Grant Park for his victory speech.

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