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.

Still confused?

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.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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