Former Idaho Gov. John Evans, who died today, steered the state “during some really tough times,” recalled Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby. “I think he was a good governor,” but was “lost to history to a degree,” Weatherby said. “He served as governor for 10 years through some tumultuous times, but serving in between the administrations of Gov. Andrus, I think unfortunately he’s been overlooked and I think that’s a mistake.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Evans’ hallmark was his openness, Weatherby said. “If you wanted to go see the governor, you could go see the governor. He had pretty much an open-door policy.” He also began the “Capital for a Day” tradition that current Gov. Butch Otter has pursued so assiduously, traveling with state officials to a series of remote towns in the state, to bring state government services right to them and address their needs and concerns. “It certainly helped his campaign as well, as it has helped Otter,” Weatherby said.
Evans’ administration also was notable for its clashes with the largely GOP-controlled Legislature. “They had many battles over his tenure, and he was the one who bought the big red ‘VETO’ stamp,” Weatherby said. “And he vetoed a lot of legislation until the 1985 session, when the Republicans gained veto-proof majorities.” That was when the GOP-dominated Legislature passed the right-to-work law over Evans’ veto, seriously undercutting the clout of Idaho’s labor unions.
Evans also presided during a major recession, a bad drought, and passage of the 1 Percent Initiative, which limited property taxes. “The state employees were cut to four days a week for while,” Weatherby said. Evans succeeded in persuading the Legislature to pass three significant tax increases, a temporary sales tax hike in 1983, a permanent one in 1984, and a temporary one in 1986 to keep the state solvent through the downturn of the early ‘80s.
During the consecutive administrations of Andrus, Evans and Andrus again, Idaho’s governor’s office was in Democratic hands for 24 years; no Democrat has been elected governor since.