The Republican from Manchester was first elected to office in November of 2016, coming to the role of legislator after working as a real estate agent and investor, as well as coaching and officiating volleyball for 30 years.
As a coach, competition and hard work is nothing new to Rep. Jean Evans, and that same drive is what has served her so well in her first term as a state representative.
Among her peers, she has championed several measures, passing seven of her agenda items in her second year at the Capitol, working to push them across the finish line by whatever means necessary, be it through legislation she herself sponsored or as amendments to fellow legislators’ bills.
Evans seems primed to be one of the vocal voices for women and children in the legislature going forward, through her experiences working with kids as a coach, or serving as a board member for Nurses for Newborns, or through legislation sponsoring legislation to ban pregnant inmates from being shackled or chained during labor, or her championing of the marriage licensing bill.
The most telling part of Evans’ story as a legislator can be explained through that particular bill, her toughest battle when she took on the issue of marriage licenses and the age at which a minor may be married.
It was an issue that first came to Evans’ attention through various reports and conversations when she was still a candidate for the House seat. Missouri had the dubious distinction of having some of the most permissive laws in the nation relating to child marriage and had garnered a reputation as being a destination for underage brides, with 1,000 15-year-old girls marrying between 1999 and 2017. And with the issue of human sex trafficking becoming an issue of much importance in Missouri, Evans saw the opportunity to take the fight to a new level.
The first year she served in the House, her legislation on the issue had little trouble passing out of the chamber, but never made it across the official finish line. In 2018, she returned to the table with the bill but found that it would be far more difficult to get it voted out the second time around, that what had received unanimous support last time would not be doing so again. Still, she wasn’t deterred and continued fighting for the bill at every turn. In the end, the measure crawled across the finish line in the final weeks of the session, thanks to some wheeling and dealing.
For Evans, it was the biggest accomplishment as a representative. The bill she had fought for was signed into effect by Gov. Mike Parson, placing a minimum legal age for marriage at 16 years, requiring signed approval of at least one parent to tie the knot at 16 or 17. But more importantly, marriage licenses will not be given to people age 21 and older intending to marry someone 16 or younger.
“We are not going to allow adults to prey on children. Someone 21 is not going to be allowed to marry someone 15. We are not going to allow adults to legalize what is statutory rape,” Evans added.
It was Evans’ ability to come to the table and work with colleagues that got the bill across the line, which Evans says is what makes the job so great.
“I enjoy the job,” she says. “I love my past job, but this is so meaningful. Feeling like I can craft legislation that positively impacts people’s lives is really rewarding.”
She says that the one thing everyone says is that the relationships are the most important part, which she wholeheartedly agrees with.
“You build a reputation for yourself as someone who keeps their word, who deals honestly, and people can count on,” she said. “Building that trust is key, so people can look you in the eye and know that you’re being sincere.”
But more than that, she’s not afraid to take risks or chances. It’s a mentality that throws back to her experiences as a coach and player, and because of that, she knows that it’s not always about winning or losing, but playing the game the right way and know that she represented her constituents to the best of her abilities.
Through all of that, she finished her first term with eight bills winding up across the finish line, one in her first year and seven in her second. She says she’s proud of that work but credits leadership for keeping things moving throughout the session.
Looking forward, Evans says she expects to keep pushing forward with the Sunshine Law legislation she had sponsored, but says she also wants to put a focus on bettering things for Missouri’s business community, employers and employees alike. She points to St. Louis’ work with startups, saying that she wants to help these small companies grow and thrive in Missouri, that they are responsible for a lot of the state’s job growth.
She also says she hopes to work with her colleagues on the issue of education reform.
“We spend a lot of money on education, and we need to put out a better product,” she said. “There are inequities in education across our state and we need to vastly improve the opportunities for students.”
Given her record, one thing seems to be certain about Evans’ attitude going forward: she’s here to compete… and to win.
This appeared in the fall 2018 edition of the Missouri Times Magazine, available in Jefferson City at the Capitol, Tolson’s, Cork, and J. Pfenny’s, and online here.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.