For Latinos and so many others, including those in higher education and a slew of former state workers numbering in the high six figures, he was the right man in the right job at the right time. But, on Tuesday morning, time expired and, Joe Garcia, Colorado’s Lieutenant Governor and the highest ranking Latino in state government announced it’s time to move on. Garcia has accepted the position of president of Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. He will assume the new position next summer.
“I didn’t go looking for the job,” said Garcia. But, with a track record like his, it may have only been a matter of time before people came looking for him. Garcia said he has thoroughly enjoyed working with Governor Hickenlooper but he expects his new challenge will be equally as rewarding.
“It (the job) came along at a time that may not have been ideal,” he said. But it will allow him to have significant influence far across the West. WICHE was created to facilitate resource sharing with colleges and universities across a 15 state region.
Garcia says his time in the executive branch was fulfilling. “I’ve had the opportunity to go around the state and talk to people – especially in minority communities – and talk education.”
When Garcia was picked as Governor John Hickenlooper’s running mate, he had already established himself as one of the state’s blue chip executives in both the public and private sectors.
When he joined the ticket, he was President of Colorado State University-Pueblo. In that position, from 2006-2010, he revitalized the institution. During his tenure, enrollment rose at the fastest clip in the school’s history. He oversaw the construction of new facilities and gave his blessings to the restart of the school’s football and track programs. The football program has attained elite status in less than a decade and is reigning national champion.
Prior to CSU-Pueblo, Garcia was the chief executive at Pikes Peak Community College, the state’s second largest school in its community college system. He was twice named Community College President of the Year during his time at PPCC. The job in Colorado Springs was his first official position in higher education but far from his first job as a top ranking executive.
The Harvard trained attorney’s resume is peppered with accomplishment. From law school, the 58-year-old Garcia joined the Denver law firm of Holme Roberts & Owens becoming its first-ever Latino partner. He later served in former Governor Roy Romer’s cabinet as Executive Director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies and later was appointed by the White House as Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I’m kind of shocked,” said former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal on Garcia’s announcement. Vidal served with Garcia in the Romer Administration as the state’s top transportation official. “Joe is one of the finest people I have ever worked with. He’s one of the most ethical and honorable men I have ever known.” And while the announcement caught him off guard, Vidal says he just thinks Garcia may have wanted a new challenge. “People like change and that’s what we pursue.”
Denver attorney and former legislator Mike Feeley has also known Garcia from his days at the Capitol. Feeley was the Senate Minority Leader and frequently worked with Garcia on regulatory matters. “Joe is a tremendous asset who has succeeded in every position he has held,” said Feeley. “In a way I’m shocked,” by the announcement. “But I don’t think I’m too surprised.”
While the salary for Garcia’s new position is unknown, it is almost certainly higher than the $68,500 earmarked in the state Constitution. Because of the modest salary that comes with the office, Garcia also served as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education for which he was paid an additional $76,000.
Garcia is married to Claire Garcia, a faculty member at Colorado College. They have four children and two grandchildren, including baby Guadalupe, born two weeks ago.