Wherever little babies are hungry and cry, wherever people ain't free
Wherever men and women are fighting for their rights
That's where I'm gonna be, that's where I'm gonna be.
- Tom Joad, by Woody Guthrie
My mom and I drove by the Capitol today and saw the flag at half-mast. We were quiet a moment thinking of Jan Evans.
Jan was one of the greatest legislators this state has known. She was brilliant, hard-working, down-to-earth. A passionate children's advocate and an energetic feminist.
Jan Evans came to the Legislature with a "fire in the belly" to make a difference. She had just achieved a huge victory lobbying through a marriage license tax to fund battered women's shelters. This meant steady state funding for shelters across Nevada and help for thousands of women every year.
In the Assembly Jan became a champion for the mentally ill, children and youth, the poor and the abused. She had a vision of bettering things for these Nevadans, and she never took her eyes off that prize.
Jan quickly worked her way up to vice-chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee.
She became a master at analyzing the state budget and finding funds that no one knew existed. She excelled at maximizing state money with matching funds.
"I'll never forget," a friend told me, "when Jan found a million-dollar federal match for child care. We all had our mouths hanging open."
What seemed like magic to us was really Jan spending nights meticulously examining the figures. And when Jan had a plan she lined up her ducks - key legislators, church groups, social service agencies, county and city leaders.
She negotiated, assigned roles, extracted commitments. Firmly, but with a smile. As one prominent assemblyman said. "I never felt Jan was mad at me, though she was plenty of times."
Ways and Means leaders typically either wield power with a big hierarchical stick, or they do outreach to share the knowledge about Nevada's finances.
Jan was a power-sharer. Another time Jan helped a group of citizens who wanted to include alternative energy options in big energy bill. She dropped everything and worked out a successful strategy for button-holing the right people and changing the legislation.
Though I knew Jan for years I didn't know her well. She was a private person. But even if you only met her once her dynamism left its indelible mark.
I remember photographing in the Assembly chambers one day. I heard a "Psssst!" from across the aisle, and I looked up to see Jan motioning me over to her desk. She showed me a paper on which she had written $2.1 million.
"This is how much we just got allocated for AIDS treatment!" she whispered gleefully. Her eyes glittered and her grin was as impish as Peter Pan's. She loved those victories. I went back to my office that morning thinking, "Now, there is someone who's really accomplishing something."
I found out later that securing this AIDS funding was an emotional moment.
There were people in the legislative gallery that day saying, "This money could save my life!"
Jan was part of a great sisterhood of women who transformed Nevada politics in the past 20 years. Mary Gojack, Jean Ford, Nancy Gomes, Sue Wagner, Frankie Sue del Papa, Vivian Freeman. They challenged the old boy network, building their successes carefully. They delighted in each others' breakthroughs. They worked on each others campaigns. They plotted, wrote bills, rallied testimony. They conspired and inspired. And they passed key legislation that included the forgotten. Tragically, four of these seven founding mothers died way too young, of cancer.
Where do you go when you die? Someone said to my mother, "I heard about Jan
Evans. I guess she's gone up to join Mary Gojack and Jean Ford." Well that's good company. But I hope they're doing something more fun than fighting Big Money for funding for child care, health care and women's shelters. Much as she loved the battle, I hope Jan is finally free of bill revisions and budget showdowns.
Ironically, one of Jan's last organizing efforts was getting commitments from the women legislators that they would run again. She never dreamed she wouldn't be joining them. But she'll be in their hearts and in ours in the legislative sessions to come.
Jan, we wont forget you.