Dan Evans receives an ovation in the House chamber when he is sworn in as governor in January 1965. (Photos courtesy of Washington State Archives)
Fifty years after his first inaugural, Dan Evans received a warm welcome Wednesday at the Capitol where he once wielded power as a House leader and the state’s only governor elected to three consecutive terms. Leaders from both parties honored Republican Evans for his work as state legislator, governor, Evergreen State College president, U.S. senator, University of Washington regent, and citizen activist.
A resolution adopted in both the Senate and House hailed Evans as “one of the most popular and respected public servants in Washington history.” It noted that Evans was just 31 when he began his legislative career (his grandfather represented Spokane in the Senate in 1893!) and became the youngest governor in state history, 39, when he was elected in a Democratic landslide year, 1964, defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Albert D. Rosellini. Nancy Bell Evans became first lady at age 31 and they raised their three young sons in the Mansion.
Sens. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, and Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, lauded Evans’ work on creating wilderness areas and the nation’s first Department of Ecology, championing equal rights for women and minorities, creating the community college system, and more. The resolution notes that Evans was a list of the nation’s best governors of the 20th Century.
Evans, accompanied by Nancy Evans, two granddaughters and former Sen. and Attorney General Slade Gorton, said the Senate ceremony was a little like attending his own memorial service. He said the legislative chambers were just like they were when he first came to town — only lots of electronic devices and no spittoons. Noting that lawmakers are under court order to adequately fund K-12, he noted that in his day, the Legislature was under court order to achieve redistricting. “May you have an easier time this year,” he said.
Evans recounted some of his early speeches Olympia that speak to, noting that their message is still relevant: that there are no Republican or Democratic schools or transportation or parks or salmon; that people shouldn’t fear labels like conservative and liberal; and that he’d rather “cross the aisle” by bipartisan problem-solving than “cross the people” by failing to solve the problems of the state.
Evans, later feted at a Capitol reception and at the Governor’s Mansion, indicated he’s still looking forward to his next phase of service.
“It’s been a real ball, and it ain’t over yet,” he said.
Still hale at age 89, he told lawmakers “It’s a rare privilege to be here — it’s a delight to be ANYWHERE.”
Evans walks down the steps on the north side of the Legislative Building in 1965.