Legislators who have died are typically honored at the next legislative session. But the loss of Jan Evans, a Washoe County assemblywoman, is still felt at the Nevada Legislature, and last week—six years after she left the Legislature and five years after her death—she was honored in the Nevada Assembly hall where she served.
On Friday, Assemblywoman Debbie Smith paid tribute to Evans on the Assembly floor. Smith ran for Evans’ seat in the Assembly when Evans left political life because of ill health. Evans, in fact, asked Smith to run in her district. Smith spoke for about five minutes to her fellow representatives and guests who came to honor Evans.
“The name Jan Evans has become and will always remain synonymous with compassion, courage and integrity,” Smith said, “and the person, Jan Evans, will always be alive in our hearts and minds.”
Evans, who grew up in foster homes, started at the Legislature in the early 1980s as a lobbyist for family and children’s issues, working for groups like Women of Nevada and the Nevada Women’s Lobby. She was known for laying groundwork for her issues months before the Legislature went into session, lining up support and neutralizing opposition.
Terry Ann Stone, who managed Evans’ first campaign in 1986 when she was elected in Assembly District 30, recalls that Evans said she wanted “to be like a duck.” Stone says Evans knew it was important “to get all your ducks lined up and have all your information before you ever walked in the door.” Evans prepared for one legislative session, when her organizations wanted an increase in welfare-payment levels, by approaching dozens of county officials and winning them over, carrying their endorsement to the legislators.
Smith says Evans used to garner support from both sides of the legislative aisle. “Jan was an extraordinary legislator,” Smith said Friday in her Assembly remarks. “She always remained true to her vision and to her ideals, but she always reached out to others to find compromise and to build consensus.” In that, Smith hopes current legislators follow Evans’ example.
The achievement for which Evans is best known was the enactment of a measure providing an increase in marriage-license fees for domestic-abuse agencies, sponsored by former Washoe County Sen. Sue Wagner. It became the foundation for abuse prevention and shelter programs in the state. Stone cites this as an example of Evans’ philosophy that “she didn’t like the idea that you steal from Peter to pay Paul—and had the necessary intelligence to find the funding.” Wagner and Evans found funding without taking it from other programs.
Evans was elected to the Nevada Assembly from Sparks in 1986 and was easily reelected thereafter, rising to speaker pro tempore at the time of her death. Her last piece of legislation, a birth-defects measure, was still hanging fire in the closing days of the 1999 session when she was hospitalized with the ovarian cancer that would kill her. After her departure, lobbyists moved in to defeat the measure, but women lawmakers of both parties united to protect it and saw it enacted into law.
Evans had her critics, such as Elko editor Dan Steninger, who charged that “Jan Evans is constitutionally barred from serving in the Legislature.”
This was a reference to Evans’ position as a fund-raiser for the University of Nevada medical school and a state constitution prohibition on people serving in two branches of government. However, the constitution says that for a conflict to exist, the person must be “charged with the exercise of powers” of both branches, and Evans had no executive powers.
Friends remember Evans as a politician who remained true to her ideals.
“Jan wanted to be like a duck in one other way,” Stone says. She recalls Evans saying, “When the rain comes, just let it roll off your back and keep with your own agenda.”