Dan Evans Speech at the 2015 Evans School Gala

  • By Daniel J. Evans
  • Posted 11/03/2015
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11138
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Daniel J. Evans (b. 1925) served three terms as governor of Washington, as a United States senator, and as president of The Evergreen State College. He and his wife Nancy Evans (1933-2024) were actively involved with many educational, community, and nonprofit organizations and causes. Dan Evans turned 90 on October 16, 2015, and the milestone was celebrated at a series of events that fall, beginning with HistoryLunch, the annual fundraiser for HistoryLink.org (this website) on September 30 and ending with the Evans School Fellowship Dinner, raising funds for student scholarships, on October 29. The Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington was established in 1962 and renamed in 1999 to honor Dan Evans (as the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs; the current name was adopted in 2015). This is the text for the speech that Dan Evans delivered at the Evans School Gala on October 29, 2015.

Joy and Memories

Nancy is my first lady and really responsible for getting me to my ninetieth birthday, although there were times during the past fifty-six years when I am sure she would say "not until ninety for heaven's sake." Recently she said, "I never thought I would live with a 90-year-old man, to which I quickly replied, "I never thought I would go to bed with an 80-plus-year-old woman."

I am pleased Governor Lowry is here. We were short-time political competitors and longtime partners as founding co-chairs of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. In the last twenty-six years the WWRC has helped fund over one billion dollars to preserve special lands and develop recreational opportunities for our citizens.

This audience of family, friends, business and political associates, teachers, and UW Evans School partners brings me great joy and a flood of memories.

Government and Politics

For a few minutes I would like to reflect on government and politics and their vital connection.

We are on the brink of an important political year and preseason skirmishing for the presidency has already begun. Some leading candidates pompously declare "I am not a politician" (that is like a donkey saying "I am not a jackass"). They are all politicians, I am a politician, and everyone in this room should be a politician.

Aristotle, more than two thousand years ago, wrote a treatise titled "Politics." It dealt with the structure, organization and administration of the state.

My dictionary's prime definition of politics is "the science or art of political government." Under that definition we are all or should be politicians. As citizens we vote, contribute to political campaigns, work on behalf of candidates, and a few of us even run for office, but collectively we are engaged in the "science or art of political government" and that makes us politicians. The real question is whether we are good politicians or bad. Whether we are actively engaged or watch from the sidelines. In football parlance a non-politician is not just on the sidelines but is not even suited up for the game.

Government Works Pretty Well

Twenty years ago I gave a speech to the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County. It was just after the 1994 election where Republicans took over control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in more than forty years. I reported on the nastiest election in my memory, saying:

"The campaign was only an incident in the steady drumbeat of negative stories on politics and politicians. It's inappropriate now to tell racial, ethnic, or religious jokes so everyone descends on politicians. But by constantly trashing our political leaders, we also breed disrespect for our own system of government. The result is a new political landscape dotted with constitutional amendments and initiatives designed to protect citizens from 'evil' politicians. Proposed constitutional changes including balanced budgets, term limits and prayer in schools will almost certainly be voted on in the current Congress. Our constitution is strong because it is amended rarely and then to expand freedoms, not restrict them. The balanced-budget amendment is a loony idea that is meaningless until we decide how to keep a national standard set of books so that we can even measure balance. The interpretation of that amendment would turn over fiscal decision making to the Supreme Court for years to come.

"As a voter I am outraged by those sanctimonious term limiters who would steal from me the freedom of my vote. They are now debating how many terms officeholders should be limited to, but some of them don't deserve more than one.

"Congress needs no balanced-budget amendment -- just courage enough to balance the budget. Voters need no term limits -- they can turn rascals out at every election. Schoolchildren need no prayer amendment, they can and do pray by themselves regularly. ...

"Here in Washington State, we are already feeling the unintended consequences of recent initiatives ... Initiative 601 is designed to save us from ourselves. Its limitations on spending bear little resemblance to the needs of our people. Its requirement for super majorities for new taxes has now spread to the national House of Representatives. Setting these higher hurdles by a current majority may be convenient, but it's also extraordinarily dangerous. What will the next majority require super votes on? Environmental issues, abortion, campaign reform?

"Well-respected national columnist David Broder said it well in a recent essay: 'Why should it be harder for Congress to raise taxes then declare war? Does this proud new Republican majority wish to say on this first day in office: we value money more than lives?'

"I guess I am a contrarian. I think government works pretty well. It put men on the moon, won the Cold War, and carried out Desert Storm successfully. Our government built the world's best transportation arteries. It delivers water, takes away garbage and sewage, fights fires and provides police protection. It preserves our environmental legacy in national parks and wilderness areas, ensures clean water and clean air. Government provides a vast safety net for people through Social Security and Medicare and as a last resort for housing, food and medicine for those too poor to provide for themselves.

"Is government always honest? Of course not. Is it efficient? Sometimes. It is subject to costly legislative restraints designed to protect citizens. Is government responsive? Usually it is. Remember, government employees work with the vagaries of a constantly shifting set of laws, each one supported by a majority when passed and few of them ever reviewed again by legislative parents. Our system works remarkably well, considering our citizens' natural yearning for better protection, lower taxes and more services. Well, I've been wanting to say all of this for a long time and you know, it feels good."

The Evans School

That was twenty years ago.

Some say not much has changed in twenty years, except that voters are grumpier and some are searching for strange "nonpolitician" personalities to lead them out of the wilderness.

I have a lot more confidence in our future. The newly named Evans School of Public Policy and Governance is an increasingly important contributor to better government and nonprofit management. We are the oldest Public Policy school in the nation at a public university and today one of the largest and most prestigious. The school is ranked number four nationally among public universities and I frequently chide Dean Archibald, "what's wrong with number one."

The mission statement of the Evans School is awe-inspiring:

  • We are committed to improving the quality of public and nonprofit service.
  • We educate leaders to meet societal challenges with compassion, vision, analytic rigor, and practicality.
  • We advance scholarship and ideas that strengthen public policy and management.
  • We are dedicated to serving local, national, and global communities and promoting thoughtful, civil, public deliberation.
  • We value integrity, respect, diversity, collaboration, and excellence in our own institution, in our graduates, and in the community.

That is a heady challenge but Dean Archibald and the faculty are producing those vital attributes in their students and skilled Evans School graduates are now providing leadership in our national capital, Washington state government, many cities throughout our nation, and a host of nonprofit organizations.

Knowledge with Power, and a Slide Rule

I only wish that I had a platoon of Evans School graduates when I began my gubernatorial term. We had to invent management tools. One turned out to be extraordinarily powerful and this is a repeat of a story I told at the Evans School commencement.

Early in my first term as governor I celebrated with legislative leaders the close of a highly successful session of the legislature. Almost immediately I received a phone call from the Superintendent of Public Instruction telling me there had been a terrible budgetary error on school appropriations and we needed a special session of the legislature to correct it. We scheduled a meeting and shortly a squadron of budget aides followed the Superintendent into my office. They presented their figures and I saw what I thought was an error in their calculations. I reached into my desk drawer and brought out a slide rule.

Now a slide rule is a marvelous device invented three centuries ago which calculates mathematical equations and was used by engineers until the advent of the modern computer. I did some calculations as they watched in stunned silence. I laid the slide rule down and said "I believe you have an error in your calculations." They protested mightily but I suggested that they go back and recheck their figures. The next day I received a sheepish call from the Superintendent saying "yes, we made an error and there is no need for a special session." That story went viral and I never used the slide rule again. Occasionally during vigorous budget debates I would pull it out of my drawer and wave it. That would generally end the debate. Knowledge with power is transformational and it always helps if there is something mystical about the power.

I am deeply gratified that you all came to help support the Evans School and its mission of educating the next generation of public leaders. The knowledge they gain and the power they eventually will acquire can be transformational in building respect and participation in our free system of government.

Birthday Celebrations

I'm also happy to be here to celebrate for about the fourth time my ninetieth birthday. Sam Reed, chairman of Mainstream Republicans of Washington, wanted to have a fundraising dinner for my ninetieth birthday, but I said enough already! You can have first choice for my hundredth birthday. It will be October 16, 2025, and I hope I will see all of you there.

In the meantime, my thanks to our remarkable leader, Dean Archibald and the whole Evans School family for a grand occasion and the extraordinary work you do in preparing public leadership for our coming generations.

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