Former Idaho Gov. John V. Evans has died at age 89. Evans, a Democrat, served as Idaho’s governor from 1977 to 1987, first moving up from lieutenant governor to succeed Cecil Andrus when he was named U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and then winning election twice in his own right in 1978 and 1982. He was the first, and thus far only, LDS church member to be elected governor of Idaho.
Evans was the grandson of the founder of Idaho-based D.L. Evans Bank and served as the bank’s president, still attending board meetings until his death, the Twin Falls Times-News reported. The newspaper reported that Evans died peacefully, surrounded by family, early this morning in Boise. His son, John Evans Jr., told the Times-News, “He was a great leader in the state and a great leader at our bank.”
Evans held public office for more than 35 years, serving as a state senator, mayor of Malad, lieutenant governor and governor. He was a World War II veteran, serving as an infantryman in the U.S. Army, and a graduate of Stanford University. As a Democratic state senator in the 1950s, he served as Senate majority leader when the Democrats controlled the Senate; later, in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, he served as Senate minority leader when the Republicans held sway, until his election as lieutenant governor in 1974.
Evans won his first full term as governor with a resounding 59 percent to 40 percent over Republican Allen Larsen in 1978. Four years later, Evans narrowly defeated then-Lt. Gov. Phil Batt to win his second full term as governor; Evans’ vetoes of several proposed right-to-work laws were big issues in the race. In 1986, with right-to-work on the ballot as a successful referendum measure, Evans lost his only election ever, running for the U.S. Senate against then-GOP Sen. Steve Symms.
Chris Carlson, in his book “Medimont Reflections,” tells this story about Evans’ return to the family bank after his election defeat and his service as Idaho’s governor: “When Governor Evans returned to the family-owned bank and attended his first board meeting, he was asked what title he would like to have. With a twinkle in his eyes he responded, ‘Well, I’ve had the title of governor, of senator, of chairman, but never president. I think I’d like ‘Mr. President’ as my next title.’” He served as the bank’s president from then on.
Current Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a former longtime lieutenant governor, issued this statement on Evans’ death: “Having had the good fortune to serve under Governor Evans, I got to know him as a sincere professional who understood the cost of success and took seriously his responsibilities as Idaho’s chief executive. He always had the best of intentions and was earnest in his love of Idaho. I admired John’s willingness to compete in the marketplace of ideas and his ability to keep himself and his office above the day-to-day political fray. The First Lady and I offer our sympathy and condolences to the entire Evans family.”