Joe Garcia, Colorado's coolest lieutenant governor, won't be going to Washington, D.C. -- not now, at least, and not as the head of the Department of Labor. Yesterday, the White House announced that Tom Perez, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, will take that post. Like Garcia, Perez is a Harvard-educated lawyer; like Garcia, Perez is Latino -- so far the only one in Obama's second-term Cabinet. But unlike Perez, Garcia has plenty more that he can do here in Colorado.
In choosing Garcia for his lieutenant governor, John Hickenlooper definitely upped the ante. In the past, this slot has been filled with assorted mediocre pols and place-fillers. George Brown, one of Dick Lamm's lieutenant governors, fabricated a story about being branded by the KKK; Mike Callihan, second to Roy Romer, once cooked up the idea of parking a Mayflower van in front of the Capitol on Thanksgiving and serving dinner there to native Americans.
Other lieutenant governors, including Barbara O'Brien, who served with Governor Bill Ritter, have brought impressive credentials and causes to the post; O'Brien was particularly interested in children's issues. But Garcia's resume blows the rest away away.
When Hickenlooper tapped Garcia as his running mate, he was president of Colorado State University at Pueblo and a co-chair of Governor Bill Ritter's P-20 Education Coordinating Council; he'd previously served as president of Pikes Peak Community College and director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies under then-governor Romer. So Garcia not only knew about dealing with state bureaucracy, but he was already deep into one of the hottest topics in Colorado: improving education. And then there's the coolness factor: Garcia drives a truck, rides a motorcycle, snowboards.
I ran into Garcia at last week's TBD Colorado meeting, which was devoted to the future of education and transportation in Colorado. Once again, the hard-working, big-thinking lieutenant governor got a shout-out from Hickenlooper during the governor's speech to the crowd.
Garcia already knew he wouldn't be getting the Labor job; he'd received the news when he'd returned to his truck after a day of snowboarding at Mary Jane. That's a pretty good consolation prize: Colorado's white stuff instead of the White House.
For now. Garcia has a big future ahead of him -- but so does this state, and Colorado can use him.