Rogers, Joe 1964–
Joe Rogers 1964–
Lieutenant governor of Colorado
Joe Rogers, the youngest lieutenant governor in the nation, did not become the second-in-command of the state of Colorado by keeping his opinions to himself. Rogers learned about the power of speaking out in high school during a pep rally being held for the football team. Rogers, a member of the tennis team, felt slighted and ignored. When his team was introduced, he grabbed the microphone and gave the entire student body a piece of his mind because it seemed the students were only concerned about football and basketball. Instead of derision, he received applause. That small moment in the sun changed his life. The passive kid turned into a leader who spoke at his own graduation. Rogers’ candid nature would propel him to his state’s second-highest position, but it would also lead other politicians to turn against him, and ultimately, to change in the electoral system in the state of Colorado.
Joe Rogers was born on July 8, 1964 in Omaha, Nebraska. He moved from Omaha to Denver with his mother at the age of two. His father was serving in Vietnam at the time. In Denver the young mother who would soon be divorced, worked constantly to keep her family afloat. Despite her work ethic, the family, which included Rogers and two of his three brothers, needed
public assistance to make ends meet. As a youth Rogers was interested in music and tennis. He played the trumpet and became drum major at Adams City High School. He lettered in track, tennis, and jazz band, but was not really passionate about his studies or extra-curricular activities. Then when he got up in front of the school to deliver that spontaneous speech, he seemed to wake up to his past and future. On his mother’s side runs a long line of pastors that stretches back into the 1800s. His grandfather was a minister in Omaha and president of that city’s NAACP Chapter. He ran for the Omaha School Board in 1960, eventually winning a seat in 1970. Rogers decided to study the law, with an eye towards a career in public service, like his ancestors before him. He majored in business at Colorado State University, graduating in 1986. He earned a scholarship to the Law School at Arizona State where he really developed his speaking skills. He won the National Bar Association’s National Negotiation Competition—a contest involving 80 U.S. law schools. This achievement by a first-year law student attracted the attention of some of the top law firms in the region. Upon graduation from law school in 1989, Rogers joined one of Colorado’s most prestigious firms, Davis, Graham & Stubbs. He worked as a commercial litigator but spent
Born on July 8, 1964 in Omaha, Nebraska; married to Juanita Kay Rogers; children: Trent, Jordan, and Haley. Education: Graduated from Adams High School, 1982, Colorado State University, 1986, Arizona State Law School, 1989. Religion: Baptist
Career: Joined Colorado law firm Davis, Graham & Stubbs, 1989-93; served as staff counsel to Colorado senator Hank Brown, 1993-95; lost run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1996; elected lieutenant governor of the state of Colorado, 1998-.
Address: Office —State Capitol, Denver, CO, 80203-1792
a quarter of his time with the firm doing community service, including a six-month stint in the Colorado Bar Association’s Lend-A-Lawyer Program.
After four years at the law firm, Rogers finally made the step into public service. In 1993 he moved to Washington, D.C., to work as legal counsel to former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. In the nation’s capitol, Rogers worked on issues related to business, agriculture, banking, telecommunications, economic development, transportation, housing, and the law. Rogers worked for Brown for two years and then decided to make his own bid for public office. In 1996, he challenged Democrat Diana DeGeffe for a seat in the House of Representatives formerly held by powerful Democrat, Pat Schroeder. Though Rogers started out the race unknown by the general public, he made the race close before eventually losing. Though it was an unsuccessful bid, Rogers established some name recognition, proved he could win black voters to the Republican side of the ticket, and demonstrated that he could raise money. Dr. Acen Phillips, who headed a coalition of 180 ministers who endorsed Rogers, told Charles Whitaker of Ebony: “He is a tremendous and very impressive young man....His understanding of what the Black community needs in terms of economic development and his courageous campaigns for things like grocery stores in our communities have touched a chord and bridged a historic gap between Black people and the Republican Party in this state.” Rogers won 42% of the vote and was endorsed by both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.
In 1998 Rogers used the momentum from his run at Congress to run for lieutenant governor of Colorado. Rogers ran against conservative state senator Jim Congrove. Congrove began the campaign with an all-out attack on Rogers. He brought up such matters as Rogers’ problems paying back student loans and a 14-year-old ticket for riding a moped on the sidewalk. Congrove’s strident attitude and his hard-line stance on issues like abortion and gun control turned many voters toward the 34-year-old Rogers. He won the Republican primary and joined Bill Owens, who was running for governor. In November of 1998 the two then won the general election to become the first Republican pair to run the state of Colorado in 24 years.
Unlike most states, when Owens and Rogers took office in 1998, the governor of Colorado did not choose his or her own running mate—the lieutenant governor. The two ran separately and then came together for the general election with the lieutenant governor quietly supporting the governor when the two took office. There have even been examples in Colorado of a governor and a lieutenant governor from different political parties.
From the beginning the relationship between Owens and Rogers has been filled with conflict. The first spat came in June of 1999. Rogers publicly criticized his boss for scheduling a Youth Summit after the Columbine shootings on the same day as the Juneteenth celebration—which commemorate the occasion when slaves in Texas heard of the Emancipation Proclamation. Rogers broke with the administration and even suggested that his boss apologize to the black community. Owens refused, and a very public and nasty feud had begun in earnest. Then Secretary of State Vikki Buckley died one month later. She was the second highest-ranking African-American official in the state of Colorado. Rogers wanted to assist Buckley’s family with funeral arrangements and to delay a meeting of a Task Force he chaired. Rogers also wanted the state flags lowered as a gesture of respect for Buckley. Owens refused Rogers’s request and told his second-in-command to be at the meeting or resign from the commission. Rogers went to the meeting but with a heavy and bitter heart.
In the fall of 1999 the dispute reached its peak. Rogers’s office manager, Latisha Kinslow, filed suit against the governor for blocking her first months pay. She used Rogers’s personal lawyer to sue the governor. The suit involved background checks and misfiled paper work, but the damage had been done. Political consultant Floyd Ciruli told John Sanko of The Rocky Mountain News: “Governors have so much control over what a lieutenant governor can do, it is seldom a good political strategy to fight with the governor or his senior staff. Things must really be pretty tense there now.” Immediately after the suit was announced, Owens fired back by releasing a list of spending by the lieutenant governor’s office which included a cell phone for Rogers’ wife, travel costs, and $6,000 for flowers and balloons for Buckley’s funeral.
In the fall of 1999 the two leaders of the state of Colorado had a face-to-face meeting and supposedly ironed out their differences. Owens agreed to pay the $6,000 for Buckley’s funeral and Rogers agreed to have his office manager drop the suit against Owens. After the meeting, Rogers told The Rocky Mountain News: “Everything will be resolved. We had a wonderful session, we really did. And we’re going to do this on a regular basis. A lot of the details are going to be worked out through staff. We’ll be working together as a team.” But it appeared to be too late to patch up their relationship. A bill was circulating in the state legislature of Colorado that would allow the governor to choose his own running mate in the next election. Then in April of 2000, the Colorado legislature cut Rogers’s budget by 25%. Many congressmen said that the cut was not a reaction against Rogers, but the Senate Minority Leader, Mike Feeley, told Mike Soraghan of The Denver Post what many Colorado politicians were thinking: “This is the most unpopular lieutenant governor we’ve ever had. The line of Republicans running for the lieutenant governor is going to be out the door. Because nobody likes him [Rogers] and they all think it could be them.” The next day, Rogers reacted to the budget cut—again to The Denver Post: “There are a lot of folks who sort of expected I would be window dressing...They would tell me that as a lieutenant governor that I simply have to keep my opinions to myself, and that I may not communicate my thoughts to anyone if they differ from that of the governor. I didn’t take this job to do that.” Later that year, the Denver legislature passed a bill changing the way the lieutenant governor is chosen. Instead of an elected position, the governor will now be able to select his own running mate. Rogers asked Owens to veto the bill, but the governor let the bill become law without his signature.
But Rogers was still alive politically, despite the setbacks in his home state. In July of 2000, he made his way to Washington, D.C., to address the Republican National Convention. After a tough year, Rogers’ star appeared to be on the rise again. He told Alvin Williams of the Black American Political Action Committee’s publication, the BAMPAC Bulletin, that he remains optimistic about his future. “...I am committed to serving as lieutenant governor of our state and working as hard as I can for Colorado families and, hopefully, if we do this job well, we will just see where the road ends up taking us. I will just say that this is not the end for me.”
The Denver Post, March 31, 2000; April 1, 2000.
Ebony, March 2000.
The Rocky Mountain News, October 6, 1999; October 13, 1999.
Additional material for this entry was found on the world wide web at http://www.bampac.org, http://www.westword.com/issues/2000-01-27/feature2.html/page1.html
—Michael J. Watkins
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