Former Washington Gov. Dan Evans was feted ahead of his 95th birthday Thursday night in a celebration featuring a bipartisan cast of politicians and former aides.
Evans, who turned 95 Friday, was celebrated for his work to create wilderness areas, welcoming Vietnamese war refugees to the state, and standing against a rancid partisan divide that has only deepened since his years as a governor and U.S. senator.
The event was staged on a mostly virtual basis, streaming online with veteran public television journalist Enrique Cerna interviewing Evans at a studio in Seattle, and guests delivering pre-recorded birthday messages on TV screens.
“We’re having a pretty good time. We’ve still got our marbles and that’s what counts,” said former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, who turned 97 in July.
Former Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, confessed, “I have always been in awe of you,” praising Evans for his creation of the state’s community college system and environmental advocacy.
“My gift is I am not going to sing to you,” joked former Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire, who called Evans “a role model for how to be a governor.”
Longtime Washington pollster Stuart Elway, who served as an Evans gubernatorial aide, said: “I don’t think you can find anybody who worked for Dan Evans who isn’t proud of that fact.”
Evans, who was a civil engineer before entering politics, has long been synonymous with a vanishing breed of moderate GOP politicians at odds with the direction of the party even before the election of President Donald Trump.
Evans was joined at the event by his wife, Nancy. Several grandchildren sent in video messages.
He was elected governor in 1964 at the age of 39 — the youngest executive in state history — and was reelected to two more terms.
After leaving office in 1977, Evans served as president of the fledgling Evergreen State College, before being appointed in 1983 to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy caused by the death of Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson.
He won a special election to serve the remainder of Jackson’s term until 1989, but famously loathed the divisive politics in Washington, D.C., and did not run for reelection.
Thursday’s event doubled as a fundraiser for Mainstream Republicans of Washington, the moderate GOP group increasingly out of sync with a party that has given support to Donald Trump for president and Loren Culp for governor in 2020.
An online auction offered up enticements to the highest bidders, such as a hike with Evans in the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness in Olympic National Park, and an evening of shooting, whiskey and a steak dinner hosted by J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, the Republican leader in the state House.
While Trump was not mentioned at the event, Evans has said he did not vote for him in 2016 and will not this year.
In a recent interview with The Seattle Times, Evans predicted that Democrat Joe Biden will win the election, and dismissed talk that Trump may try to stay in office by refusing to accept that result.
“I don’t think that will happen,” he said. “If he loses, he will be viewed by a very very high percentage of the population — both Republicans and Democrats — as yesterday’s fish. He will stink and disappear.”
Asked by Cerna for advice on 2020’s parade of woes, Evans said Washington has been through hard times before, recalling the Boeing bust and late 1960s protests that roiled the state when he was governor.
“Be optimistic. I am,” Evans said.