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?”