It's been a rough year for western Illinois Democrats. On Wednesday, former Rep. Lane Evans, a Rock Island native who represented the 17th District for 12 terms, died at the age of 63. His death is one of three recently for a tightly connected political group.
Evans, who suffered from Parkinson's Disease, died in East Moline at an assisted living center, the Quad City Times reported . Illinois lawmakers were quick to release statements about Evans, a Marine who made taking care of veterans a hallmark of his public service. Rep. Cheri Bustos, the Democrat who represents the 17th District, said "Lane will be sorely missed by all who he touched but his legacy of service will never be forgotten." Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, who was first elected to the House the same year as Evans, in 1982, closed his statement with Evans' long-time campaign slogan, "Thank heavens for Lane Evans."
The loss of Evans comes on the heels of the deaths of Bustos' father, Gene Callahan, who died on Aug. 4, and former Sen. Alan J. Dixon, who died on July 6. The connections among Bustos, Callahan, Dixon and Durbin run deep.
Callahan became close to Durbin when Callahan was chief of staff for the late Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., another popular downstate Illinois politician. Callahan also worked for Simon before he was elected to the Senate, when he was lieutenant governor.
Durbin also worked for Simon when he was lieutenant governor. Callahan went on to work as Dixon's chief of staff in the Senate until 1992, when Dixon lost re-election. After Callahan's death, Durbin said in a statement that "I never made an important decision in my political life without calling Gene."
Bustos got to know Evans when she was a reporter for the Quad City Times. She followed in the footsteps of both her father and Simon, journalists who later went into public service. Bustos weathered the GOP wave Tuesday, forming another link to Evans, who was frequently targeted in his district but always found a way to win until retiring in 2006.