Get a Job!
He doesn't need to wear dark sunglasses and a hat. He doesn't have to resort to a fake name or unlisted phone number in order to avoid the spotlight. And when people do recognize his face, they don't always know his name -- even in Gunnison, where he's lived for 31 years and now runs a phone-book-printing business with his wife, Debra.
He's Mike Callihan.
Previous Westword article|
"The Young and the Restless"
He used to be lieutenant governor of Colorado.
"I walked into a restaurant the other day, and a lady said to me, 'Didn't you used to be famous?'" Callihan says with a laugh. "That's fine. It's solidly behind me."
And "famous" was always an overstatement.
Like the 41 second bananas who served before him and the three who have served since, Callihan was elected by the people to do a job -- but exactly what that job was, no one really knows. Particularly the men and women who've held the position themselves.
"The very strength of that office is that you don't have a job description," Callihan says. "You have someone who is not so tied up running things and can focus on policy issues that the governor may not have the time for. He can be an ombudsman, a free agent for the governor to float ideas and to go where there are problems and show the state flag. The other thing is that you can do your own thing."
In other words, lieutenant governors spend a lot of time attending luncheons and fundraisers, meeting dignitaries, crisscrossing the state like truckers on speed (driving themselves, of course, since the job merits a car but not a driver), and pondering their navels. But when a lieutenant governor decides to do his "own thing" -- like Callihan, who frequently disagreed with his boss, former governor Roy Romer, and like Colorado's current backup, Joe Rogers -- it can create a problem, especially if the lieutenant governor's thing is not the governor's.
That's why the state legislature has tried several times to abolish the position over the years and is once again reconsidering the lieutenant governor's job -- both what it is and who should do it. But it's ironic that this decision rests in the hands of lawmakers, Callihan says, since "25 percent of the legislators want to be the lieutenant governor themselves, 50 percent aren't sure and only 25 percent don't. I have a theory that they will never eliminate it since its harshest critics would take the job in a second."
And why not? To our part-time legislators, a position that comes with a $68,500 salary, an expense account, a state car and no job description looks like a pretty good deal.
On January 13, Joe Rogers was supposed to be skiing.
Instead, he was called to the State Capitol by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee to put in his one cent regarding a proposal that would allow gubernatorial candidates to pick their own running mates. As it stands now, the lieutenant governor is selected through the same primary process as other statewide candidates and then added to the ballot as an adjunct to the party's gubernatorial candidate. Rogers won his position by besting a Republican challenger, Jim Congrove, then riding with Bill Owens to victory over then-lieutenant governor Gail Schoettler and her running mate, Bernie Buescher.
Having missed a day in Keystone, where he was scheduled to address the Black Enterprise Ski Challenge, a networking event for Black Enterprise magazine, Rogers seemed visibly and, at one point, audibly, displeased about having to waste time defending the honor and future of his job when he could have been hitting the bumps. At the hearing, Rogers testified that he supported the proposed bill. But when asked if he would be as committed to the job if he had been selected by Owens rather than by Republican voters, he equivocated: "I would hope yes, but in reality, no. There is a specialness to being elected." He considers himself to be a "proactive and activist lieutenant governor," Rogers added, with a mandate to do what he was elected to do.
Whatever that might be.
The only statutory duty of Colorado's lieutenant governor, who heads an office with an annual budget of nearly $330,000, is to head the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs and serve as a liaison for the state's two reservations -- the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute. That responsibility doesn't take much time and requires only an occasional appearance with Native American leaders.
Otherwise, the lieutenant governor usually does whatever the governor asks. But in just over a year since they were both elected, the only thing Owens has asked Rogers to do was chair the Task Force on Child Welfare -- a job Rogers nearly lost when he tried to postpone the first scheduled task-force meeting in order to plan Secretary of State Vikki Buckley's funeral. That task force was disbanded last Tuesday after it released a report outlining 36 suggested changes in the system, but Rogers plans to share the report's contents with many Colorado communities over the next few months. In fact, he began doing so last week on a swing through Alamosa and Durango.
"The lieutenant governor has requested to be on more task forces," says Kerri Carmin, Rogers's spokeswoman, who notes that the lieutenant governor will soon begin serving on a task force dealing with retirement plans for state employees. "But we don't yet know what all of those will be at this point in time."
While he's on the road, Rogers also plans to drum up support for one of his own projects: a one-day conference on youth education called "Uncensored," slated for March 25 at the University of Denver. Although educational reform was one of the issues Rogers campaigned on in 1998, he only announced plans for Uncensored, which carries a million-dollar budget, after the Columbine shootings.
Other than that, Rogers has mainly attended state dinners, fundraisers and luncheons, including: a reception for the new, full-time Japanese consulate in Denver; a benefit for Terrell Davis's Salute the Kids Foundation at the opening of a chile-shaped Chili's Bar & Grill; an auction and dinner for A Taste of Excellence in Education, benefiting the Denver Teachers' Awards; and several events for visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji. He has also given numerous speeches, appearing at the Expanding the Visions Conference to promote mentoring and foster awareness of career opportunities for black youth; at A Youth Walk for All Ages to promote alternatives to violence; and at the British-American Chamber of Commerce to promote the consumption of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
In mid-January, Rogers traveled to Florida to participate in the American Conservative Union's 27th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He returned to Denver in time to march in the nineteenth annual Martin Luther King Day parade with Owens and Denver First Lady Wilma Webb.
But idle hands do the devil's work, and although Carmin professes to be so busy with the lieutenant governor's various activities that she no longer has time to publish his calendar ("I simply have put my efforts elsewhere," she says), Rogers and his staff seem to have more than enough time to get into trouble with the boss.
Maybe Owens should have doled out a few more of those task-force appointments.
When he decided to run for lieutenant governor, Joe Rogers had never held an elected office.
A Denver-area native, he'd been an aide for former Republican U.S. Senator Hank Brown and an attorney before running -- unsuccessfully -- against Democrat Diana DeGette when Pat Schroeder's First Congressional District seat opened up in 1996. Just 34 years old in 1998, when Owens was the leading Republican candidate for governor, Rogers was seen by many in the political establishment -- including former governor John Love and former federal housing secretary and vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp -- as a potential young star who could reach out to Denver's black voters.
He faced a tough primary battle, though, against conservative state senator Jim Congrove of Arvada, who wasted no time in criticizing Rogers for an embarrassing problem paying back his student loans and a fourteen-year-old ticket for riding a moped on the sidewalk. But Rogers, who took a more moderate stand on issues such as abortion and gun control, ultimately prevailed in the August 1998 primary election.
That earned him a supporting role with Owens, the buttoned-down, conservative number cruncher from the suburbs who'd served in both houses of the state legislature and as Colorado treasurer for four years under Romer.
The two seemed an odd couple from the beginning, and their election in November 1998 -- the first Republican duo to run the state in 24 years -- didn't change that.
Still, Owens and his lieutenant appeared to be getting along just fine -- at least, to the public eye -- until this past June, when Owens and Attorney General Ken Salazar scheduled a summit on youth violence in the aftermath of Columbine. The date the two chose conflicted with Juneteenth, an annual celebration in the black community, and black leaders criticized the administration for its bad timing and worse sensitivity. Rogers, who complained that he hadn't been consulted by the governor, joined in suggesting that Owens apologize to the black community. The governor didn't, and the summit went on as planned. But Owens also took time out to join the Juneteenth marchers.
Then, on July 14, Buckley died of a heart attack. Saying he admired the late secretary of state, Rogers asked to postpone the first meeting of the child-welfare task force scheduled for three days later out of respect for Buckley, and he spoke out loudly against the governor after Owens refused. And Owens did more than simply refuse: He said Rogers would have to resign from the task force if he skipped the meeting. The dispute continued for several days before Rogers gave in; in the meantime, Rogers's chief of staff, Scott Spendlove, quit in protest over his own boss's public griping.
Feelings between the two camps were still a little bruised when Latisha Kinslow, Rogers's office manager, filed suit against Owens on September 1, accusing him of illegally blocking her first month's pay because she wouldn't submit to the same criminal background check that the governor's own staffers had to undergo. The bizarre suit got even stranger when it was revealed that Kinslow would be represented by Rogers's lawyer and that Rogers had approved of her action -- a revelation that shocked fellow Republicans as well as Democrats.
The suit apparently was too much for Owens. In September and October, his staff began to release documents indicating that Rogers had engaged in other questionable activities. The administration accused Rogers of buying a cell phone for his wife with state money; charging personal travel costs to his expense account; overstepping good sense by spending more than $6,000 on balloons, flowers and food for Buckley's funeral; and promising state money to one of the injured Columbine students.
And then there was that little matter of a state employee getting caught driving a state car over 100 mph in order to get Rogers to a meeting. A highway patrolman had stopped the car but didn't issue a ticket, and Rogers had failed to discipline the employee. (Speaking of state cars, Rogers had already gone on record complaining that Owens got to ride around in a fancy sport utility vehicle while Rogers had a mere bucket of a sedan.)
In late October, the governor and his lieutenant sat down for a long meeting during which they reportedly worked out many problems. But since then, the atmosphere has remained on the chilly side.
The state legislators who proposed the bill that would allow the governor to pick his own sidekick insist the proposal was not inspired by the Owens/Rogers spats, but almost everyone, including some former lieutenant governors, think Rogers should have kept his mouth shut.
Sam Cassidy, who finished out Mike Callihan's term after he resigned one year early, calls the lieutenant governor job the "greatest" in state government. "The nicest part of the position is that you get to define it and work on issues that you are committed to and feel passionate about," he says. "But, obviously, you need to stay close to your governor and work with him or her to do it. If you fall out of grace, it's difficult to do. Most governors don't mind having disagreements behind closed doors -- debate gives you a more well-rounded thought process. But when you are on the same team and you can't settle a debate this way, it can become embarrassing."
Cassidy, who is now the president and CEO of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), believes that candidates for lieutenant governor should run separately from the governor -- a method that was in place in Colorado until 1970 and often resulted in the governor and lieutenant governor's coming from different parties. Short of that, he says, a governor should be allowed to pick his own running mate. "Since they run together, it's awkward if they can't pick someone they work well with," he explains. "It should be one way or another."
In October, former lieutenant governor Schoettler told the Rocky Mountain News: "People don't vote for the lieutenant governor, they vote for the governor -- and as lieutenant governor, you should never forget that. Quite honestly, if Joe Rogers doesn't develop a better relationship, he doesn't have a job. He's going to be marginalized, trivialized. He may be able to gain some press by making some outrageous comments. But that's not what a lieutenant governor is supposed to do. He's supposed to contribute to the well-being of the state.''
But there's nothing wrong with a little disagreement between the state's number one and number two, Callihan says -- and he should know. At one point, Callihan strongly criticized Romer for releasing some of Colorado's water to drought-stricken California, and he spoke his mind at other times, too.
"Roy Romer and I actually disagreed far more than people ever knew, and I pissed him off an awful lot," Callihan says. "But you pick your fights, and we just had the good sense to do it behind closed doors. Occasionally it spilled out -- that's human nature. But we respected each other, and I respected the fact that there was only one governor."
He doesn't think the governor should be able to select his own running mate, however. "If you are beholden to the governor because he gave you the job," he explains, "then the state loses another perspective. I'd abolish it before I'd make the position a hack for the governor.
"I was never afraid to speak my mind. Joe's mistake is that he's done it in the papers."
By speaking out, Rogers may hope to elevate his profile in a bid to one day reach an even higher office. But he should be aware (as should other would-be light guvs, including Doug Dean) that the lieutenant governor's office, once regarded as a stepping stone to the governor's office, usually serves more as a plank to walk off of. The last lieutenant governor to ascend the throne was John D. Vanderhoof, governor from 1973 to 1974 -- but that was only because his boss, Governor John Love, resigned to take a job in the Nixon administration. (The last lieutenant governor to be elected governor was Stephen McNichols, in 1957.)
For most lieutenant governors, the job has actually signaled an end to elected office.
Ted Strickland, appointed to serve as Vanderhoof's lieutenant governor, continued as his second when he ran in 1974 -- but they were beaten by Democrats Dick Lamm and his lieutenant, George Brown. A state senator for many years, Strickland returned to the legislature after that defeat and promptly proposed a constitutional amendment to eliminate the lieutenant governor's job, calling it "a useless office." He later ran as the Republican gubernatorial candidate against Romer, who was then state treasurer, in 1986 -- and lost again. Today he's an Adams County commissioner.
Brown, who was the nation's first black lieutenant governor when he served from 1975 to 1979, wore out his welcome during Lamm's first term. Brown is perhaps best remembered for granting a state pardon in 1978 -- while Lamm was out of town -- to a man who'd been convicted of pistol-whipping another man to death almost twenty years earlier; Lamm rescinded the pardon when he returned to the state. Brown also got in trouble after a speech in which he described how he'd crashed a training plane in an Alabama field in 1943 and how the farmer who'd found him had branded the letter K on his chest. But Brown later admitted that the incident never happened and that the K on his chest had resulted from a Kansas fraternity prank. State Democratic Party headquarters no longer has a forwarding address for Brown, but he's believed to be living in New York.
Nancy Dick followed Brown as Lamm's second-in-command, filling the office from 1979 to 1986. Stymied in her attempts to run for higher office, she later represented a Japanese cosmetics company. She now has her own company in Denver called Dick and Associates, but couldn't be reached for comment.
Callihan ran on the ticket with Romer and lasted well past the first term -- despite his novel concept of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for Native Americans in a Mayflower moving van parked in front of the State Capitol back in 1988. He quit the office abruptly in 1993, with less than a year to go before Romer's third term. Callihan wanted to make some fast money in a business deal that involved the rights to Kenny Rogers Roasters franchises, he explains; he used the money to pay off $60,000 in debt that he'd racked up while maintaining homes in Gunnison and Denver at the same time. (Unlike the governor, the lieutenant governor does not get a home along with the title.)
Callihan eventually returned to Gunnison and bought back a business he'd started after college, printing phone books for Cañon City and Gunnison, as well as Fremont, Custer and Hinsdale counties. He never ran for office again. "I promised my wife I'd take a fifty-year sabbatical from elected office, so when I'm 96, I can run for the nursing-home board," he says. "I did my duty. I loved the work, but I hated the politics. There's nothing quite like being out of politics."
Cassidy, who'd been president of the state Senate, was appointed to finish out Callihan's term and didn't run again in 1994. He left elected office to become the director of the Jefferson (County) Economic Council before taking the helm of CACI in 1997. "Everyone should do some public service, but I don't think it should be a career," says Cassidy, who jokes that he's still trying to live down the fact that he was lieutenant governor. "I really felt like I had done my part." Although he says he shares a bond with other seconds-in-command, "we don't get together for beers or anything."
Schoettler, who'd been the state treasurer, became Romer's lieutenant for his last term and then ran for governor in 1998. Since losing to Owens, she's been writing a column for the Denver Post and was recently appointed by President Bill Clinton to lead the U.S. delegation at the World Radiocommunications Conference this spring in Turkey. The six-month position requires her to live in Washington, D.C.
As for Rogers, he told the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee last week that if the proposed bill becomes law, he thinks Owens will still pick him to be his running mate for a second term. (Then again, Rogers also thought it was a good idea for one of his staffers to sue the boss.) Apparently as ambivalent about the proposal as Rogers, the committee split its vote 6-6, which means it can bring the measure up later this session. Lawmakers are also scheduled to consider another, almost identical bill that would make the change effective in 2006 rather than 2002.
"I ran because I wanted to serve. I ran because I am committed to Colorado," Rogers told the committee. "In every relationship, whether they be husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, there are disagreements. People do not expect public officials to get along."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.