Off Limits

Last week's news that the state legislature wants to cut the lieutenant governor's budget by 25 percent -- meaning the elimination of two positions from a six-person staff -- came as a blow to Joe Rogers, the man who currently holds the job. But since there are only four people working there now and the office has more turnover than a Winchell's donut shop, it probably didn't hurt too bad. If the measure is approved, the lieutenant governor's yearly budget of just over $320,000 will be whittled down to about $240,000 -- including Rogers's salary.

No matter
He's lucky to be collecting one. Since taking office in January 1999, Rogers has a shown a knack for getting dissed and dismissed by everyone -- including his own family, his fellow Republicans, Governor Bill Owens, Democrats, lawmakers and the press. But he's also displayed a talent for garnering private money and, at least outside of Colorado, some good PR.

On Saturday, he'll host a conference in the Magness Arena at the University of Denver's Ritchie Center, put on with money and in-kind contributions from Coke, Pepsi, US West, McDonald's, DU and the El Pomar Foundation. The conference, planned after Columbine and titled "Uncensored: The Lieutenant Governor's Conference on Youth Education," was postponed from March 25. (Oops! The original date conflicted with most students' spring breaks.) Although the new date has received little attention, Rogers nevertheless expects to draw 1,500 to 2,000 high school students from across Colorado.

Rogers, who traveled the state drumming up support from schools, businesses and community groups, initially hoped to raise at least $1 million. But the total isn't known yet, says new assistant Theron Bell, "because the dollars keep coming in. We got the amount that was needed to take care of the conference."

What is known
Rogers will lead opening and closing sessions, and DU students will mediate breakouts during which high school juniors and seniors will get a chance to weigh in on five problem areas in education -- including discipline, the dropout rate and math and science scores. (As of press time, Rogers's office was still shaky on some of the areas of teen concern -- though we imagine any shopper at the nearest Abercrombie & Fitch could help out on that one.) Adults will be purposefully absent from the workshops so students can express their opinions more freely; the results will be gathered by DU students, presented to a consulting firm hired by Rogers, and then published in a ten-page booklet that will be distributed to every school, administrator, school-board member and political leader in Colorado. Or so Rogers says.

"Uncensored" will be Rogers's first major accomplishment as lieutenant governor -- aside from alienating his boss and his party -- but it probably won't stand as his legacy. No, that will come if the legislature, after having first slashed the lite guv's budget, decides to eliminate its status as an elected position. Both houses have approved versions of a proposal that would permit gubernatorial candidates to pick their own running mates, instead of allowing lieutenant-governor candidates to run their own campaigns; the change would take effect for the 2006 election. Unless, that is, Republican Senator Ken Chlouber's proposed constitutional amendment gets rid of the office altogether.

Despite his bad press in Colorado, however, Rogers -- who is one of the highest-ranking black elected state officials in the country -- has managed to make a good impression elsewhere. Just in the last few months, he's appeared on CNN's Both Sides With Jesse Jackson and the Fox News Network's Hannity & Colmes; he's also been the subject of several flattering articles, including one in the March issue of Ebony that described him as a "political trailblazer" and a "rising star in the Republican party."

The magazine also congratulated Rogers on his "oratorical skills," which is more than can be said for Governor Owens. While Rogers has been discussing compassionate conservatism with Jackson, Owens has spent his national airtime blabbing about John and Patsy Ramsey and even invoked mockery from Barbara Walters, who took delight in bashing Owens after he accused her of being soft on the Ramseys. His lips have been so loose that Ramsey attorney Lin Wood told Larry King last week that because of his recent comments all but convicting the parents of JonBenét Ramsey in their daughter's murder, the governor is now "under the umbrella of litigation in this case."

If you have a tip, call Jonathan Shikes at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416 or e-mail [email protected].

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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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