Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Dan Evans: Conservative Conservationist

The first person I improbably met after arriving in Seattle to attend college was former Washington Governor Albert Rosellini, who was defeated the previous fall in his bid for re-election to a third term. A mutual friend arranged the meeting, which centered on Rosellini’s at-times bitter comments about his successor, Dan Evans.

Dan EvansWhile traveling over the holiday, I read an airline magazine article about Evans, who went on to serve three terms as governor and then was elected to the U.S. Senate. In my first reporting job after college in Port Angeles, I covered Evans and found him to be a straight-shooter and a clear thinker. Apparently he still is at age 89.

Rosellini’s political legacy included creating the University of Washington medical and dental schools, reforming his state’s prison system and mental health facilities and building a second floating bridge across Lake Washington. Rosellini was a champion of  the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle that gave the city its signature Space Needle. Even so, Evans outdid him.

Evans created the Washington Department of Ecology, the first state agency to protect the environment. President Richard Nixon modeled the Environmental Protection Agency after Evans’ creation.

Under Evans leadership as governor, Evergreen State College was born. He also ushered in Washington’s system of community colleges, which now total 14 and enroll more than 400,000 students.

Evergreen-State-College-Speedy-the-Geoduck2As a legislator, Evans was involved in creation of Metro, which delivers transit and clean water to the Puget Sound region.

Perhaps what distinguished Evans most of all was that he was a political conservative and also a devout conservationist, a modern day Teddy Roosevelt without the big stick. Evans, who remains physically active, uses a walking sticks as he continues to hike and push men half his age up steep slopes.

Walking a different path is not new for Evans. When given the chance to deliver the keynote speech at the 1968 Republican National Convention, Evans declined to jump on the bandwagon for Richard Nixon and stuck with his support of Nelson Rockefeller. “I’m all for compromise,” Evans told Eric Lucas, writing for Alaska , the in-flight magazine for Alaska Airlines. “But compromise does not mean compromising your principles.”

Compromise was a necessity for Evans, a progressive Republican in a state trending toward solid blue. An engineer by training, Evans tried to blanch out the politics of core issues. “I’ve never seen a Democratic salmon or a Republican highway,” Evans said in his interview with Lucas. He also noted that conservative and conservationist come from the same root word and aren’t antithetical.

In the article, former Oregon Congressman Les AuCoin adds his praise to Evans. “What I remember about Evans is his statesmanship. He seemed to feel what he owed  his constituents was his judgment and conscience instead of slavish agreement.”

Les AuCoin“And if one does not believe in compromise,” AuCoin added, “then one is advocating authoritarian government.”

Washingtonians, perhaps even Rosellini, came to trust Evans. When Evans championed a series of Washington Futures initiatives to fund infrastructure improvements in highways, water systems, parks and transit during a deep Boeing-led recession, voters okayed all but one. Naysayers were proven wrong. Evans was proven right when he argued that voters should be given the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to important, game-changing investments.

No politician is perfect. Evans’ effort to add balance to Washington’s sales tax-heavy tax system failed by a 2 to 1 margin. Former Oregon Governor Tom McCall told Evans not to sulk. McCall said his ambitious tax reform measure lost by an 8-1 margin.

Throughout his long political career, there was no tinge of scandal surrounding Evans. He appeared true to his “straight arrow” nickname, given to him because he was and acted like an Eagle Scout.

Despite approaching 90, Evans retains a lean, erect frame. He still has his alma mater University of Washington football season tickets. He can walk to games from his house, located just six blocks away.


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