One of Lane’s first priorities upon entering Congress was to push his Populist philosophy, so in 1983 he founded the House Populist Caucus along with thirteen other Democrats, including notables such as Tom Dashcle, Berkley Bedell, Al Gore, Frank McCloskey, Bill Richardson, Harold Volkmer, Gerry Sikorski, Tim Penny, James Oberstar and Barbara Boxer.
Today, the term Populist has become a blanket term for any anti-establishment candidate or someone popular with the common voter. This upsets many purists however, including Lane’s friend Jim Hightower, radio commentator, columnist, and former presidential campaign manager for Fred Harris. Hightower describes Populism as: “a doctrine, a history, and an organized movement to empower ordinary folks to battle the financial and corporate elites.” Or in other words, “Populism is standing up for the little guys against the bankers, big-shots and bastards. The very essence of populism is breaking the grip that big corporations have on our country.”
Evans’ Populist caucus was going to push for a progressive tax policy, more credit access for farmers, to revoke the 1981 corporate tax cuts, and for better enforcement of anti-trust laws.
“We’re looking for some real old-time political scraps with the forces of reaction and unbridled corporate power,” Lane told the Argus/Dispatch in 1983. “We’re all card-carrying capitalists. We believe in oil companies; we just want a lot of them…the idea behind populism is to promote competition the way it’s supposed to be, not huge monopolies or unfair corporate practices.”
In keeping with the Populist philosophy, Lane did something practically unheard of on Capitol Hill — he declined a $9100 pay raise and didn’t enroll in the retirement plan. He also returned ten percent of his $60,000 salary to the US Treasury. It was a sign of solidarity with the people of the district, 20,000 of whom lost their jobs during the manufacturing downturn. “My people don’t get those types of perks, why should I?”
“In 1987 I introduced a bill, HR 1657 to make the GI bill permanent…the original bill was threatened when President Reagan sought to eliminate it in his fiscal year 1987 budget…I felt compelled to fight for the bill because it was working…It took some negotiations and maneuvering, but we did succeed in making the bill permanent. I was most pleased when Congressman Lane Evans of Illinois, a senior member of the committee, introduced an amendment (to name it) the Montgomery GI Bill of 1984. In offering his amendment, Congressman Evans commented on my role in the proposed legislation: “You had the vision to conceive the New GI Bill. You had the courage to fight for it against strong and committed opposition. You had the leadership needed to succeed. It has done what you said it would and even more.” — Sonny Montgomery (R-MS)
“Sonny Montgomery: The Veteran’s Champion” by G.V. Sonny Montgomery with Michael B. Ballard and Craig S. Piper. University Press of Mississippi. 2003.
“From time to time, I’ve been asked who I am running against. My reply has been that I’m not running against anyone, because I am running for an office and to represent people. The office I hold, and ask to retain, demands such an approach. With all the problems Congress has with its poor public perception, its credibility won’t be restored if it is comprised of 435 mudslingers. So I ask the voters to examine the candidates with a skeptical eye. Don’t rely on 30-second negative ads to make your important election choices. Look into the candidates record and ask them where they stand on the important issues that affect you.” Lane Evans, November 1990.
“During my time in Congress, I have tried to be an advocate for the hard-working people in our area: our family farmers, our small business owners and working people. It seems clear that our government has turned its back on the needs of average citizens as i
t has catered to the interest of a few wealthy and powerful Americans. I believe we can reverse these priorities and restore our visions and values that reward every American for what they contribute. It won’t happen by resorting to gimmicks or replaying the policies of the 80s. It requires a commitment to serving the interests of every American and make our country stand up for them. By insisting on fair taxation policies, fair trade and wise military spending, we can reduce the deficit, protect American jobs from unfair foreign competition and provide for the needs of our fellow citizens.” — Argus/Dispatch Nov 4, 1990.
“Lane was almost an impossible guy to dislike. That’s an unusual attribute in politics. Paul Simon had that quality as well. They liked him. He was a good and decent person, and Lane had the same qualities.”
Over the course of his 24-year career in Congress, Lane Evans returned nearly $360,000 of his salary to the government. Each year he’d write a check to the Internal Revenue Service for roughly $15,000. He chose to give it back to the government as a form of protest against the debt. And other than modest cost-of-living increases, he declined all pay raises until 1996.
“There were times when I would go up to Lane and ask: ‘Are you sure you want to do this? This might be a hard vote in your district.’ And he’d just look at me and say: ‘What are you talking about? This is the right vote!’ He had a fearlessness about him when it came to sticking with what he thought was the right thing to do. Lane was proof positive that if you stand with people, stick to your core principles, and work hard, that you can win in districts that people have thought impossible. It turned out he was a winner being such a principled guy.”
— former colleague and US Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois)