SONDERMANN | Time to sunset Colorado’s lieutenant governor

So this fall’s debate between the candidates for lieutenant governor will feature Dianne Primavera versus Danny Moore. Coloradans are breathless with anticipation.

Of course, there will be no such debate. Not even the public access television station in rural Haxtun would carry such a deadly dull affair. Surely, they would find a report on soybean futures to run instead.

For those citizens of Colorado not familiar with these two names — meaning roughly 5,960,00 million out of the state’s estimated population of 5,961,000 — Primavera has been Gov. Jared Polis’s second-in-charge for the past four years.

A nice and decent person, Primavera hardly threatens a boss who insists on always being the smartest person in the room.

Moore was announced this past week as Republican gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl’s choice of a running mate. This came after Ganahl had previewed her selection as, “a very strong Hispanic leader from rural Colorado.”

Moore is from suburban Centennial and African-American.

It seems that Ganahl’s vaunted rural Latino leader, rumored to be Las Animas County Commissioner Felix Lopez, turned down the gig. He may have opted instead to clean his sock drawer.

After Lopez took a pass, apparently so did the next 50 people Ganahl randomly called out of some old phone book. Hence, Danny Moore. Whose major claim to political fame was having been forced to step aside as head of the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission due to an assortment of wacky, inflammatory social media posts, mostly of the election denial variety.

Hey, Moore is no Lauren Boebert. But he gets points for trying.

As for Ganahl, she seems to have decided to trade noble defeat for the ignoble kind. Having refused time and again to provide a simple, straight-forward statement to the validity of the 2020 election, she has now invited a conspiracy theorist along for the ride.

With no lingering reason to play footsy with the GOP’s election-denial crowd, there can be only one reasonable explanation for Ganahl’s cat-got-your-tongue silence and now her pick of Moore: That she actually believes this stuff and buys into the election-heist big lie.

But let’s shift from a rant about election denial lunacy to my intended rant about the waste of space and money that is the lieutenant governor’s office. (Or “lite gov” as it is known around the Capitol.)

The office really exists for one reason only – that being succession. I have long thought that a stethoscope would make a perfect campaign symbol for some candidate for the post.

That is what the job really entails. Once a day, you check the governor’s heartbeat. If it’s pulsing, the lieutenant governor gets another day off. If the governor flatlines, you get the keys.

That’s essentially it. Everything else is window dressing and make-work.

The job is so non-substantive that Lt. Governor Primavera, the current placeholder you have never heard of, doubles as the head of the very wordy Office of Saving People Money on Health Care. Coloradans eagerly await a report when inflation is reined in and money is actually saved.

John Nance Garner, FDR’s veep for his first two terms, is credited with commenting that, “The vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Garner, known as “Cactus Jack” for his acid tongue, is thought to have actually counseled fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson that, “The vice presidency is not worth a pail of warm piss.” But history has cleaned it up a bit in the telling.

If that is the assessment of one vice president to a future vice president, what does it say for the lowly office of lieutenant governor in a mid-size state like Colorado? Vice presidents, at least, have foreign funerals to attend. And a Senate to preside over now and then.

Colorado has been fortunate to have some lieutenant governors of distinction and high ability, including rather recent ones, Barbara O’Brien, Joe Garcia and Donna Lynne. Republican Jane Norton belongs on that list as well.

Until early this century, candidates ran separately for their party’s nomination for governor and lieutenant governor before then being joined as a ticket for the November election. That produced some tense, strange pairings, none rockier than the match of Gov. Roy Romer and Lt. Governor Mike Callihan for the first chunk of Romer’s tenure.

I would like to believe that all of us should be allowed one early-career mistake of note. As a young consultant, mine was in seeing or projecting some potential in Callihan which never existed.

About all that is remembered of Callihan’s stint was his steroidal faux pas in thinking it a wise, decorous idea to serve Thanksgiving dinner to a group of needy Native Americans out of a Mayflower van parked in front of the Capitol. For real. Long before today’s sensitivities, anyone with a lick of political sense should have recognized that as an off-key clunker.

Insults and light-heartedness aside, succession planning should be serious business. No private entity with a budget approaching $40 billion would countenance such low-level political players as heir apparent to the chief executive.

If the norm is to treat this selection with such lack of serious resolve as to result in the likes of Danny Moore or even Dianne Primavera sitting a heartbeat away, it begs the question of why even have this office.

A number of states account for succession in other ways. In neighboring Arizona and Wyoming, the secretary of state is next in line. In Maine and New Hampshire, that responsibility lies with the state Senate president.

Colorado could do worse than to place the attorney general first in the line of succession. Or to come up with a rank order of elected officials where in the event of death, incapacity or resignation, power shifts to the first on that list from the same party as the departing governor.

Our state was a pioneer in passing sunset laws that can put underperforming, unneeded agencies out of their misery.

The time has come for the sun to set on the office of the Colorado lieutenant governor.

Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for Colorado Politics and the Gazette newspapers. Reach him at EWS@EricSondermann.com; follow him at @EricSondermann

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