I bet Dan Evans is rolling over in his grave about now.
Don’t get me wrong — Evans, our former governor and U.S. senator, is physically alive and kicking. In fact just a few days ago he wrote a stirring article in this paper urging us to have compassion for refugees fleeing violence in their own countries.
But whatever political tradition or party Evans belonged to sure seems dead and long forgotten to us now.
Read Evans’ story if you missed it. It’s a sepia-toned portrait of our better angels. He tells how when he was governor, in the mid-1970s, our state went out of its way to welcome a flood of Vietnamese refugees fleeing that war-torn country.
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Angry that some states were turning away refugees, Evans sent a staffer down to a temporary camp near San Diego with an unusual message: You may not have heard of our state, but you’ll be welcome there. The staffer even got on the camp’s loudspeaker to invite refugees to Washington state for a better life (Evans jokes that the hundreds who eventually came probably thought they were going to the nation’s capital).
Can you imagine this scene happening today? I can’t. Not with the feckless leaders we have now. Not to mention our increasingly jingoistic politics.
The day before Evans’ reminisces were published, Republicans in the U.S. House not only voted to make it easier to deport child refugees fleeing violence in Central America, but also voted to strip work permits from and potentially deport the half million or so “Dreamers” — people who were brought here illegally years ago as small children and have since grown up as American as you or me.
This appalled even The Wall Street Journal editorial board.
“The GOP again gave the country the impression that its highest policy priority is to deport as many children as rapidly as possible back from wherever they came,” the paper wrote, labeling Republicans “the deportation caucus.”
Did I mention former Governor Evans is a Republican? It makes the change between then and now even more astonishing.
Evans was urging us to welcome the Central American children, perhaps to temporary housing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That’s now not going to happen, the feds announced Tuesday. The government didn’t say why — though Congress’ failure to provide any aid money before going off on a five-week vacation probably had something to do with it.
Congressman Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said Tuesday that deportation fever is only rising in the GOP — and that some in his party seem cowed by it. Smith was about the only elected official who strongly, publicly went to bat for the refugees.
“I mostly heard political silence,” he said. What little noise was made was negative, with one mayor at the local level suggesting “the migrants were going to give us all diseases,” Smith said. That was the mayor of Lakewood, near the base, who wrote the feds that he was worried the refugees might spread everything from swine flu to scabies.
“Personally I think our inaction is shameful,” Smith said.
For now, direct help while the refugees await asylum rulings is being left to scattered faith-based groups and volunteers. Smith said that could go on for a while because Republicans are unlikely to agree to a less-punitive aid plan.
“We’ll never go along with their ‘deport the children’ stance,” Smith said. “So we’re stuck.”
To his credit, GOP Congressman Dave Reichert of Auburn did vote against the part about deporting the Dreamers. But a tweet about that from former state GOP Chairman Chris Vance only served to showcase the sorry state of our politics:
“Thank you to Dave Reichert, one of the 11 brave Republicans who voted no on the bill to deport Dreamers,” Vance wrote.
GOP leadership used to be when you went to a camp of desperate, displaced foreigners and announced over the loudspeaker that you were there to help them seek the American dream.
Now, you’re considered brave if all you do is vote not to deport them all.
Dan Evans, thanks for that memory — and for doing the right thing back in the day. But unfortunately today it is little but whisperings from a political graveyard.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org