Joe Garcia: Pikes Peak region's rising star 

Between the Lines

On the list of Colorado Springs' perpetual priorities, having insiders with influence in Washington, D.C., always should rank at or near the top.

Such is life when your city depends so much on governmental support.

So it has come as quite a surprise over the past two weeks that nobody here seems to care much about Joe Garcia being talked about as President Barack Obama's likely nominee to become the next secretary of Labor.

In his three-plus years as Colorado's lieutenant governor, Garcia has maintained a low profile — not surprising, considering that he has concurrently served as executive director of the state Department of Higher Education. Yet some Denver contacts have suggested that Garcia might have been more influential (and perhaps happier) in his previous two jobs, as president of Colorado State University-Pueblo and Pikes Peak Community College.

Garcia, who turns 56 next month, surfaced in late January as a possible choice for Labor secretary. That led some to speculate that, as a Latino, Garcia was a convenient response to early criticism of Obama's second-term Cabinet appointees, who are mostly white. In truth, as media reports quickly uncovered, the White House had begun checking into Garcia shortly after the president was re-elected in November.

It's arguable that Garcia might have been better-qualified for other Cabinet posts, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan isn't leaving, and neither is Kathleen Sebelius in Health and Human Services. Then again, with his higher-ed credentials, and given the Department of Labor's priority to improve the nation's workforce, perhaps this is the best fit. (Let's also not forget that, after earning his bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Garcia graduated from law school at Harvard, then served in Gov. Roy Romer's administration during the 1990s.)

Regardless, another important point has been missed: It's not every day that any city or area has a champion being considered for the Cabinet, which means being inside the brain trust that runs our federal government. When something happens, like a hurricane, a major military operation or even the Waldo Canyon Fire, those leaders have a seat at the table deciding how to respond.

That's what Garcia could become for Colorado Springs and the rest of the state.

This rises far above political affiliations. Sure, as a Democrat, Garcia might differ from the majority in El Paso County. But he has spent much time in Colorado Springs during his professional life, and he still has a residence here with his wife Claire Oberon Garcia, who has taught English at Colorado College since 1991. He cares about our region and understands what makes the economy work.

He could be in a position to intervene, for example, and prevent others from generalizing negatively about Colorado Springs whenever somebody like U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn takes an offensive stance (such as blowing off a State of the Union speech).

Another possible scenario: As delicate as the military's funding and future are, it would be easy to imagine some inside Obama's administration seeing conservative Colorado Springs as unworthy of favors in the military's next Base Realignment and Closure process. Yet, an ally within the "inner circle" could be proactive if necessary on behalf of our city and its attributes — just as you'd expect Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to defend Arizona, or Sebelius to fight for Kansas.

Those who have watched Garcia through the years would surely agree that, based on his career path, all he really wants is to make a difference. That's exactly what he has done, from various nonprofit boards here to his higher-ed roles. Being part of Obama's Cabinet would provide Garcia's best opportunity yet. He could help make changes happen nationally, and in specific areas such as immigration reform. And whenever Colorado Springs sends emissaries to D.C., he would become No. 1 on their contact list.

This is a big deal, just as it was for Colorado when former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar became Interior secretary during the president's first term. It doesn't mean, as Labor secretary, Garcia would carry the water for this region on a constant basis. But nobody should complain about having someone with such close ties to Colorado Springs inside the Cabinet.

And who knows where he might go after that?



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