Joe Shoemaker was a real straight shooter

Author: - August 17, 2012 - Updated: August 17, 2012


It was 9:30 Monday night when the phone rang. I saw Jeff Shoemaker’s name on the panel and knew immediately why he was calling. Yes, Joe Shoemaker had been slipping fast but, to me, he had always seemed invincible. So to hear that he had passed was like a hammer blow.

Looking back at photos I took of him and other Joint Budget Committee members and legislators when we served together in the 70s, I could see that air of dynamism and invincibility. It was what made him so effective, such a doer and even a steamroller. Imagine, for example, a committee chairman reading off a list of some thirty plus bills and then telling his committee that they had to kill them all in one motion. Wellington Webb and I and others were in the Senate Appropriations Committee room that afternoon when it happened, hoping that the bills we had gotten through the House would survive. I don’t remember one member of Joe’s committee objecting.

Some of the most telling photos are those I took when Joe was giving us a tour of the South Platte. His plan was to clean up the river and he was almost popping out of his skin with excitement. Given what the river was like back then some thirty-five years ago, we were skeptical. In retrospect, I recognize that Joe had a long-term plan for his public life — the South Platte — whereas we were just grinding a budget out day after day.
Lots of people involved in public life have long-term plans but they mostly involve themselves — which office to run for when. Joe’s plan wasn’t about himself; it was a long-term plan for the people of Denver and Colorado. I never remember him issuing a press release extolling some bill he had passed or hurrying down to the Governor’s office for a photo op.

The other memory that the photos bring back is the laughter. When David Gaon from Denver and I were appointed as the House Democrats to the Joint Budget Committee right after the 1974 elections, no one was talking about laughter. Joe was considered to be this iron-fisted conservative who was squeezing the life out of the human services programs that we Democrats believed in so strongly. Confronting him as JBC committee members was going to be a struggle.

Well, there were struggles but, as a committee, we soon began to function as a team more so than any other legislative committee I ever served on. We enjoyed being together, trusted each other and had a lot of laughs. Why? Because of the tone of respect that Joe immediately created as Chairman and because he understood the importance of compromising and working things out. To many in politics today, “compromise” is the ultimate dirty word but compromising is how you get things done and keep your state or country moving forward.

The respect that developed during those two years led to lifelong friend- ships. Joe and Paul Sandoval, for example. In the book that I put together about Joe (Joe Shoemaker, A Straight Shooter for Colorado), Paul related a conversation they had regarding Paul’s commitment to vote with Joe on a workman’s compensation bill. It goes as follows.

He (Joe) said, “Paul, there’s only one thing that counts here in the Legislature. It’s your word.”

I (Paul) then voted for Joe’s bill. It passed and Joe never forgot it.

Paul was right. Joe never forgot his friends and we will never forget him.

Morgan Smith served on the Joint Budget Committee with Joe Shoemaker during the 19975 and 1976 sessions.