James M. Evans (1962- )

James Evans, 2016
© Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune, Fair use image

James M. Evans, a politician and business owner, was the first African American chairman of the Utah Republican Party. He was born to Robert and Beatrice Evans in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1962. He graduated from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School in 1981 as the class president and attended Tuskegee University in Alabama the following year. He graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s of science in chemical engineering. During this time, his interest in politics took shape as he became a member of Tuskegee’s Young Republicans Club.

After graduating, Evans enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he worked as a navigator. After his service was completed, Evans relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, and later started a small business in 1994. He started a payday loan franchise, Chekline, which eventually prospered and ranked him among the more successful Black business owners in the city.

In 2001, Evans ran for Utah state senator in District 1. The first district was a traditional Democratic stronghold. It had been 30 years since a Republican had held the office at the time that Evans was in the running. The George H. Bush White House gained interest in the race and sent local advisors originating from the area to assist with the campaign. Evans won by capturing the votes of workers and racial minorities who typically don’t vote for GOP candidates. His victory was considered one of the most significant Republican wins in the election season. Evans held office from 2002 to 2004 and worked on the Utah Republican Bylaws Committee.

After his term finished, Evans focused on city-level politics. In 2005, at the Salt Lake County Republican Convention, delegates chose Evans to become the new Salt Lake County Republican Party chairman. He was re-elected in 2007 for another two years and hit the two-term limit for the position. Republican success in the county had dipped, highlighted by losing control of a traditionally GOP County Council. As the outgoing council chair in 2009, Evans was hopeful the party’s fortune would change in the near future. After leaving office, Evans focused on his business, Chekline, and real estate investments.

On May 18, 2013, Evans was elected chairman of the Utah Republican Party, making him the first African American to hold the office. His main goal was to ensure Republican success at the polls. Preserving the caucus and convention system was a priority for him and educating young voters on the voting and political process. During the 2016 Presidential election, Evans made headlines because of a controversial attack on Bill Clinton during a CNN interview. The Utah Republican Party offices received racist death threats against Evans, leading to extra security measures being taken. Currently, Evans still serves as the chairman of the Utah Republican Party.