The memorial service as well as the funeral for former Senator Greg Evers is planned for next week. The North Florida Republican was recently killed in a single car wreck when his pickup truck crashed through a guardrail near his Baker home. Now, some of his colleagues and friends are taking the time to remember Evers and the legislative legacy he left behind.
Surrounded by a field of land on his farm with a farm tractor behind him, Greg Evers last year released his first TV ad in his bid to represent the 1st Congressional District.
“I’m Greg Evers. Our values are different around here. If Washington were run by Panhandle values, our country would be in a better place….”
In the ad, the Baker Republican—who’d previously served in the Florida legislature for 16 years—says he’s a Fifth generation Floridian from the Northwest area, a farmer, and a small businessman.
While he also called himself a Lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, past NRA President and Lobbyist Marion Hammer calls Evers a great friend. She says she’s known him since he first ran for office.
“You don’t see a lot of folks like Greg Evers anymore,” said Hammer. “He was a farmer, he was a down-to-earth straight shooter, and a strong, strong advocate for the Second Amendment and in fact, many, many people throughout this state are going to miss him and his honesty and his integrity.”
Included in the gun laws Evers helped put on the Florida books is the so-called “Warning Shot” bill. It removed 10-20-Life as a penalty for aggravated assault cases. The goal was to make sure a person did not receive a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence for firing a warning shot, in self-defense.
Still, Hammer says Evers should be remembered for even more than that.
“That in my mind is irrelevant to the imprint he left on the hearts and minds of people that he worked with,” she added. “You didn’t just work with Greg Evers, he made you a friend, and that kind of legacy, I think, is unbeatable.”
But, Evers wasn’t just known for his pro-gun views, his work in Florida’s Criminal Justice system—particularly with Florida’s prison system—also drew praise.
Former Republican Senator—now Pasco County Tax Collector—Mike Fasano calls Evers a “tireless advocate for his constituents”—many of whom were correctional officers. Fasano recalls a time when they both worked alongside a few of their GOP colleagues and Democrats to kill prison privatization efforts years ago.
“And, he made those people, those individuals a priority of his, and through his efforts, we were successful in stopping many of the movements by others to privatize prisons,” said Fasano. “He made certain that many of his constituents—the correctional officers—were well taken care of as far as making sure they were recognized and appreciated throughout the state.”
In recent years, Evers worked to help address the understaffing levels at Florida’s prisons in the Florida Senate. He also advocated on behalf of correctional officers receiving pay raises.
But, his advocacy didn’t stop there. He also authored legislation to help protect inmates as well. Florida’s prison system has undergone a slew of Secretaries and was plagued—at the time—by suspicious inmate deaths and allegations of inmate abuse.
“All this is, is to try to legislate common sense,” said Evers, speaking to WFSU in 2015. “Even though, we’ve got them incarcerated, they have to do their time, but we still have to treat that person with some dignity, yes.”
And, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island)—who sat on several criminal justice committees with Evers—says it’s one of the things he really liked about his former colleague.
“The way he had empathy for those who were less fortunate, I always admired that,” he said. “I agree with it, and I was always happy to work with him to make sure we had a correctional system that we would be proud of. So, if he had a legacy, it would be the idea that he wasn’t afraid to speak up for people who couldn’t speak for themselves.”
Evers’ friendships also transcended party lines. Former Senate Democratic Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa)—who like Evers left the Florida Legislature last year—says she too worked with him on prison reform issues. And, she says their friendship dates back way before then.
“And, that was so evident that after we both left, and when he was running for Congress, he called and talked about the campaign periodically. You know, it’s devastating to me because I had a very close relationship with both he and [his wife] Lori,” said Joyner.
Joyner remembers when Evers first got elected in 2001 to the Florida House during a special election. She recalls teasing him a bit for his Freshman status.
“And, so, we told him, ‘we would teach him the ways of the Capitol, beginning with where the bathroom was…and, there was a lot of laughter and fun, and we just developed a cool relationship from that point on. And, every time I would introduce him to somebody, he would tell them, ‘I’m her favorite redneck,’” she added.
“He’s from the old school if you will, where a person’s word is his bond,” said Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee). “If Greg Evers told you something you could take it to the bank.”
Evers’ fellow North Floridian Montford says when he first was elected to the Senate in 2010, Evers took him under his wing.
“Greg was one of the ones who first came to me, and said, ‘if I can ever be of help to you or you ever wwant to team up on an issue, he’d say, I’m your man,’” said Montford. “Greg is the kind of friend that I would call a robust friend, if you will—robust in the sense that he was always there to help and eager to help, to be depended upon…he’s a man of great integrity.”
And, Montford says while Evers was no longer in the legislature, his absence will still be felt as the Senate was a better body with him in it.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.