After 24 years in Congress and 10 years of battling Parkinson’s disease, Rep. Lane Evans (D.-Ill.) stunned the Prairie State last week when he announced that he would not seek re-election this fall. Citing the need to address "the concerns of my health," the 54-year-old Evans made his exit one week after winning renomination in the 17th District (Rock Island-Moline).
In 1982, when conservative State Sen. Ken McMillan defeated veteran liberal Rep. (1966-82) Tom Railsback for renomination, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Legal Services lawyer Evans came out of nowhere to win the historically Republican district — in all likelihood because the GOP was fractured by the primary. Rising to become the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, Evans has, more often than not, been re-elected with ease. His sudden departure, however, radically changes the political picture in a district John Kerry carried with 51% of the vote last year.
Under state election law, a committee of district Democratic leaders will select Evans’ replacement on the ballot. The name most often mentioned is that of State Sen. Mike Jacobs of Moline. A former staffer to Secretary of State Jesse White, the 45-year-old Jacobs is considered cut from the same liberal cloth as Evans (lifetime ACU rating: 5%). But there are other ambitious Democrats likely to maneuver for the nomination, among them Evans’ longtime district director Phil Hare, Rock Island Mayor Mark Schweibert, and attorney Clarence Darrow, grandson-namesake of the legendary lawyer.
The Republican nominee is Andrea Lane Zinga, former Quad Cities TV anchorwoman. Two years ago, Zenga drew 39% of the vote against Evans in a campaign in which the incumbent’s illness was freely discussed. Now, with the seat suddenly open and Democrats likely to fall over themselves to secure nomination, her chances of an upset have improved.