Press reports on Evans retirement and fallout
An article in the Springfield State Journal-Register provides more insight on how the decision came about and the mechanism which will be used to select Evans' replacement.
When Vetzner and other top staffers met with Evans for what was supposed to be a planning session Monday afternoon, he surprised them with his decision to retire.The Chicago Trib notes,
"He was joking around, teasing people as he does. He was in very good spirits, when he said, "I've decided to retire," said Vetzner, who has worked for Evans for 19 years.
Evans' chief of staff, Dennis King, and district director, Phil Hare, have worked with him since he was first elected in 1982.
"We're disappointed. We're family. We're shocked. But at the same time, we're certainly proud of everything he's worked for," Vetzner said.
Evans made the decision during the weekend after consulting with his three brothers and close friends, Vetzner said.
Evans was unopposed in the Democratic primary March 21. Democratic Party officials from the 17th Congressional District have until Aug. 31 to decide who replaces him on the Nov. 7 ballot. Republicans last week nominated former television anchor Andrea Zinga, who lost to Evans in 2004 after she made his health a campaign issue.
Evans told sympathetic audiences, "I may be slow, but I know which way to go." He defeated Zinga 61 percent to 39 percent.
On Tuesday, Zinga said, "I wish him the very best in his retirement. I also want to take the opportunity to recognize his many able years of service as a veteran and as a public servant to his country."
She refused to speculate whether the incumbent's retirement gives her an advantage in November.
"I think the best idea is to leave politics for another day," she said.
But Zinga's consultant Charlie Johnston suggested that Democrats might be hurt by the makeup of the oddly shaped district they drew after the 2000 census to give Evans a safe Democratic seat. The L-shaped district stretches from Rock Island to Calhoun counties, then juts out to include Macoupin and part of Sangamon. North-south rivalries could present a serious problem for Democrats, Johnston said.
"There might be truth to that in some circles, but in the final analysis, I think the Democratic chairmen are going to do what is right for that district," said Macoupin County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Mathis.
The Democratic precinct committee representatives in each of the 23 full and partial counties that make up the 17th Congressional District will have a weighted vote, based on the number of Democratic votes cast in last week's primary, according to Illinois State Board of Elections' legal counsel Steve Sturm. The counties expected to have the greatest influence in selecting a replacement are Rock Island, Fulton, Macon, Macoupin and Adams.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a memo to reporters noting that Zinga only has $3,600 in her campaign fund after a tough primary battle, and that the district remains strongly Democratic.
Potential Democratic candidates being mentioned include state Rep. Mike Boland of East Moline, state Sen. Mike Jacobs of East Moline, Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert, Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri, former Quincy Mayor Chuck Scholz and state Sen. John Sullivan of Rushville. Also mentioned are Hare, Evans' district director, and his economic development director, Jerry Lack.
Hare said he is "certainly interested," but declined further comment because he said he didn't want to take the spotlight from Evans.
Rock Island County Democratic Chairman John Gianulis declined to discuss possible candidates Tuesday. Knox County Democratic Chairman Norm Winick acknowledged Rock Island's significant influence in the selection process.
Evans' spokesman declined to say whether he planned to make an endorsement in the race.
However, politics was temporarily set aside on Capitol Hill on Tuesday as lawmakers of both parties lauded Evans and his many years of service.
Calling Evans "my best friend in the Illinois delegation," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told colleagues on the Senate floor that Evans "showed extraordinary political courage fighting for the values that brought him to public service. But his greatest show of courage has been over the last 10 years as he battled a cruel disease and those who tried to exploit his physical weakness," an apparent jab at Zinga.
Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., described Evans' battles to get compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, to help homeless veterans and those who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
"He is one of the most gracious, best-humored and hardest-working people that I've ever had the pleasure to know," said Obama, who credited Evans' early support for his Senate campaign for his election.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., recalled his longtime partnership with Evans to end the use around the world of land mines, which endanger soldiers and civilians.
"His decency comes from deep within and it has touched the lives of millions of people to help make their lives better," Leahy said.
Republicans also praised Evans' long tenure in the House.
Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, said Evans "has a well-deserved reputation for delivering first-class constituent service, and it has been a true pleasure for me to work with him on a host of issues that impact the citizens of our adjacent districts."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, commended Evans for "his faithful service to the people he represents as a valuable member of the Illinois congressional delegation and wish him the best in his battle with Parkinson's disease."
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer, R-Ind., said he respected Evans, who was senior Democrat on the committee.
"Even when we disagreed on policy matters, I never doubted that his policies on veterans' matters are rooted in his service as a United States Marine during the Vietnam era. Lane is a man of integrity, compassion and honor," Buyer said.
In Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich also praised Evans' tireless work on behalf of veterans and his constituents.
"All along the way, he held tight to his values and priorities," Blagojevich said. "I'm saddened by the news that Lane's battle with Parkinson's is taking him out of public service."
The surprise announcement by Evans touched off a wave of speculation Tuesday over whom state Democratic officials would choose to represent the party on the November ballot. When he came to office, his district was one of the most competitive in Illinois, but after state lawmakers redrew the boundaries in 2000, it became a far safer district for Democrats.And the AP story picked up by the San Fransico Chronicle contains the "his brain works fine" quote from Sen. Jacobs.
"It was a lot more within our grasp before it was carved up," said Tom Getz, the GOP chairman in Rock Island County. "Now it's a lot more difficult for Republicans to win in this district. But it's still possible."
The district, which is made up of nine counties and pieces of 14 others, was described by Congressional Quarterly as "a geographic monstrosity," including much of central Illinois' border along the Mississippi River "with tentaclelike appendages as far inland as Springfield and Decatur."
A list of a half dozen state legislators and local officials emerged Tuesday as possible candidates. Because Evans decided to announce his retirement a week after the Illinois primary, he will have to be replaced on the ballot. The party's candidate will be decided by Democratic chairmen in the district's counties.
The list of Democrats being considered for Evans' seat include: state Sen. Mike Jacobs of East Moline; Phil Hare, Evans' chief of staff; state Rep. Mike Boland of East Moline; Mark Schwiebert, mayor of Rock Island; and Paul Mangieri, Knox County state's attorney, who was defeated last week in his bid for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer.