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Another Warning

December 07, 1987

It is not particularly unusual, or disturbing, for a veteran member of Congress--a senator perhaps considering whether to run for a third or fourth six-year term--to decide to retire instead. The senator expresses his frustration with the incessant demands--in committees, in odd-hour floor sessions, in constant fund-raising and a growing load of constituent services. Back home, some hotshot young politician from the opposition party is watching every vote and every position, ready to ambush the veteran senator in the next campaign. "It's not like the old days," the senator sighs, bowing out.

It is somewhat unusual, however, for a relatively youthful, bright and popular politician like Sen. Daniel J. Evans (R-Wash.) to decide to quit the Senate after only five years. The Senate's erratic schedule makes a reasonable family life impossible, Evans said. The Senate no longer is the deliberative body that it once was. And even if he was reelected next year, Evans still would not have enough seniority to enjoy a real leadership position. So he will return to his beloved Washington state to build a retirement home, sail, hike and write a book.

"I guess my dismay is not disgruntlement," Evans commented. "It's a really deep hope that it really could be better, and I think that's fairly generally the feeling of many." No one minds working hard, Evans added, but working night after night for weeks at a time is too much. Evans serves on three committees and six subcommittees--not an uncommon load in the Senate. Others who have prior service in the U.S. House of Representatives, or as a state's governor, as was Evans, have complained that they have no time in the Senate to become truly familiar with the multitude of subjects with which they must deal. Reforms have been studied, but largely ignored.

The Senate floor and committee schedule is by no means the only problem. With Senate campaigns costing as much as $10 million, fund-raising must go on without letup. Senators now are bombarded with requests for constituent services, which used to be handled mostly by House members. Senators originally got a six-year term so that they would not have to worry about the odd political whims of the day but could work toward the longer future of the nation. That independence has been curtailed by the need, enforced by political consultants, to be ever on guard against the sort of slip that an election opponent could exploit.

The loss of a talented member like Evans is another warning signal that the political system and the people often impose impossible demands on the nation's elected officials and those who aspire to those offices. Absent reform, the real talent may just stay home in the first place.

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