"Guts: The Lane Evans Story"

Dec 11, 2019

Former Illinois Congressman Lane Evans is the subject of a new biography. Devin Hansen of Rock Island says it took eight years, plus two years to find a publisher, to finally release "Guts: The Lane Evans Story."

Herb Trix reports.

a young Devin Hansen with his mother Catherine and Congressman Lane Evans
Credit Devin Hansen

Hansen says he first got the idea in 2006, about the time Evans resigned from Congress due to the effects of Parkinson's Disease.

"I first met Lane in 1983 when I was 8 or 9 years old. I followed his career, as a political junkie growing up, and he always voted the way I would want a representative to vote. So I admired him a lot, and he had a lot of celebrity around here, he helped so many people. He had such a legendary status locally I thought it would be nice to bring that story to a national audience."

 He scoured back issues of local newspapers, interviewed friends and associates, and spent time with the Lane Evans papers at Western Illinois University.

Evans' old neighborhood in Rock Island.
Credit WVIK News

Evans' father was a firefighter and his mother was a nurse, and Hansen says Evans never forgot where he came from.

"His brother said politics was their sport - when they were around the dinner table that's what they discussed. And Lane saw how people, especially in the early 80's with the recession, how the working class was getting shafted, and he identified with a lot of people due to his upbringing. When he got into Congress, in the first year he was sleeping on the couch in his office, and he returned 10 per cent of his salary, and he said that constituents don't get these pay raises and benefits, so why should I." 

Reporters can remember the day after each election, very early on cold November mornings, seeing a lone figure outside factories in the Quad Cities - that was Evans spending hours shaking hands and thanking his supporters.

And long with organized labor, some of his strongest supporters were farmers, but not all of them.

"The farmers - he kind of had a love-hate relationship with. He quit the Agriculture Committee after his first term and I think that upset a lot of farmers. But throughout his career he was always working for the small farmers, not the big agri-businesses And that was something a lot of people didn't necessarily understand."

Credit Devin Hansen

Lane Evans also focused his attention in Congress on helping veterans - he served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. 

"One of his major accomplishments, for veterans, was the Agent Orange Act of 1991. He worked for it for ten years from the moment he got into office. But he met a lot of resistance from Sonny Montgomery and others on the Veterans Committee - they didn't see Vietnam and THE war, they saw World War II as the actual war. So Lane had a hard time fighting for these benefits for the Vietnam vets. And finally in 1991 he was able to co-sponsor it and it was passed. " 

President Barack Obama would take time out from QC area appearance to meet with Lane Evans.
Credit Friends of Lane Evans

Barack Obama says of Lane Evans, "I wouldn't be president without you." That stemmed from Evans involvement in the 2004 democratic race for an Illinois seat in the US Senate.

"There were a lot of people running and Obama struck him the most. They had the most in common, they had the most similar viewpoints, and he saw the same guts within Obama that he had to vote his political conscience rather than what was expedient. So he endorsed Obama when everyone was telling him not to. So he stuck his neck out, no one else was, and he was the first notable Illinois politician when everybody told him not to, and it turned out to be the right decision."

Evans was first elected in 1982, and served until 2006 when he resigned due to the effects of Parkinson's Disease. Hansen also chonicles Evans final years.

"I felt it was important for people to realize what Parkinson's is like. Hopefully it brings more awareness. Also I think Lane would want people to know when he was in office with Parkinson's he was still functioning, he was still working hard. And hopefully that gives inspiration to other Parkinson's patients that they can accomplish things too. 

Lane Evans died on November 5th, 2014, and is buried in the National Cemetery on Arsenal Island, in the Quad Cities. 

"Guts: The Lane Evans Story," by Devin Hansen, is published by Strong Arm Press, in Washington DC.