Election 2018NewsTop Story

TRAIL MIX | No. 2 pick not a No. 1 attention getter

Author: Ernest Luning - July 6, 2018 - Updated: July 19, 2018

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Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne Lynne ran for governor this year, but finished fourth in the Democratic primary. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski-File)

Before this year, Colorado’s major-party gubernatorial nominees had to name running mates for just four elections — and the pick has rarely attracted much attention.

Walker Stapleton is looking to change that.

Until the 2002 election, voters decided in party primaries which lieutenant governor candidates would advance to the fall ballot. That was before tension and run-ins between Republican Gov. Bill Owens and his lieutenant governor, Republican Joe Rogers, led legislators to rewrite the rules and make candidates for governor responsible for designating a second-in-command, the way a presidential nominee decides on a vice president.

The law says major-party candidates running for governor have to “select” a No. 2 within seven days of the primary’s conclusion, something they all agreed meant not only making a choice but making that choice known as well. And that’s what they all did, announcing their selection either soon before or soon after their own nominations became official. (The law establishes similar but slightly different timelines for minor party and unaffiliated gubernatorial candidates.)

After taking a close look at the law, however, the campaign of Republican gubernatorial nominee Stapleton determined that it didn’t require the candidate to tell anyone once the selection has been made, although eventually running mates are required to file paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office, within 30 days of the primary.

“Why would we make an announcement while Coloradans are enjoying the Fourth of July holiday?” Stapleton campaign manager Michael Fortney asked Trail Mix.

Instead of unveiling Stapleton’s pick when voters are paying more attention to fireworks, barbecues and summer road trips, Fortney said, the campaign intends to let its lieutenant governor candidate be known on its own schedule, sometime before July 26 — potentially getting a bump in good publicity from the announcement instead of squandering it.

The announcements have rarely attracted much attention. In all, Republicans have made the announcement four times since 2002, while Democrats have trumpeted their choice three times. (Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first lieutenant governor, ran for the pair’s second term in 2014, although he resigned the next year to take an executive position with a higher education association. Hickenlooper appointed health care executive Donna Lynne to serve out the term.)

After the new law went into effect, Owens, seeking his second term, tapped Jane Norton, the director of the Department of Public Health and Environment, for his running mate. His Democratic opponent, Rollie Heath, had already picked Bill Thiebaut, the state Senate majority leader.

Owens won re-election but faced term limits. The next time around, Democrat Bill Ritter named Barbara O’Brien as his running mate, and U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez picked Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland as his.

Almost immediately, Rowland became engulfed in a controversy about comments she’d recently made comparing gay marriage to bestiality, polygamy, incest and marriages between adults and children.

“Do we allow a man to marry a sheep?” Rowland said during an appearance earlier that year on a Rocky Mountain PBS public affairs show. “I mean, at some point, you have to draw the line.”

Voters handed the election to the Ritter-O’Brien ticket by an overwhelming margin.

Following a flurry of attention to Rowland’s thoughts on marriage, the position again mostly receded mostly into the background during campaign season, attracting notice only rarely.

In addition to Hickenlooper twice tapping Garcia, the other major-party lieutenant governor nominations have been when Republican Dan Maes selected former state lawmaker Tambor Williams, and when Beauprez — running a second time eight years later — singled out Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. Both those tickets lost to Hickenlooper and Garcia.

The position used to be elected separately from governor, but that’s changed twice in the last 50 years.

As recently as the 1960s, state voters picked governors and lieutenant governors independently. Occasionally that meant the two belonged to different parties, as happened when Republican John Love was governor and Democrat Mark Hogan was lieutenant governor. At that time the lieutenant governor also presided over the Senate, regardless of which party held the majority there.

Since 1974, however, the lieutenant governor has run on a ticket with the governor and hasn’t had much to do unless the governor assigned additional responsibilities.

For the next three decades, voters picked governor and lieutenant governor candidates from the same party, although they ran separately in primaries, leading to uneasy partnerships like Owens experienced with Rogers.

The last two lieutenant governors to win election to higher office served in the secondary role during the 1950s. Republican Gordon Allott was twice elected lieutenant governor, in 1950 and 1952, before winning a U.S. Senate seat he held for three terms. Democrat Stephen McNichols followed Allott in the lieutenant governor position and was elected to three terms as governor, beginning in 1956. (Colorado governors and lieutenant governors served two-year terms until the late 1960s, when the terms were increased to four years.)

Since then, other lieutenant governors have sought higher office, but none have won.

Hogan ran for governor but lost in the Democratic primary to Dick Lamm, whose second lieutenant governor, Nancy Dick, later ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.

Democrat Gail Schoettler, who was lieutenant governor to Lamm’s successor, Roy Romer, lost her bid for governor to Owens.

Rogers lost a congressional primary to Beauprez, and Norton lost in a GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010.

Just this year, Lynne ran for governor, but finished fourth in the Democratic primary.

Romer’s second lieutenant governor, Mike Callahan, opted against running for a second term and instead lost a congressional race before securing a deal as a top Colorado franchisee for Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken restaurants, founded by the iconic country crooner.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.