Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is stepping down from his post next year to become president of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.
Garcia has been lieutenant governor since 2011. He also serves as executive director of the Department of Higher Education.
According to a news release from Gov. John Hickenlooper, Garcia will step down “sometime before July 1, 2016” to join WICHE.
In taking the WICHE job, Garcia said education has always been his passion, and that he looks forward to carrying the message of “opportunity, college completion and workforce development throughout the West.”
Garcia will be “nearly impossible to replace,” according to Hickenlooper “He has been an exceptional lieutenant governor and in leading education efforts for Colorado. He has given five years selflessly to the success of this state and the future education of our children. We are grateful and wish him continued success.”
In choosing Garcia to lead the department of higher education, Hickenlooper became the first governor since Roy Romer to pick an executive director who met the statutory requirements for the job.
State law requires the executive director to hold substantial training and experience in the field of higher education, which was interpreted by governors prior to Bill Owens to mean administrative experience, not just having gone to college. That’s something all of the previous seven executive and interim executive directors prior to Garcia lacked.
Hickenlooper spokesperson Kathy Green told The Colorado Independent the governor will continue to adhere to those laws in picking a successor.
Garcia previously served as president of Colorado State University – Pueblo and as president of Pikes Peak Community College.
Hickenlooper will need the blessing of the Colorado House and Senate for the appointment of a new lieutenant governor. The Senate will need to confirm his choice for a new executive director of the Department of Higher Education, should the governor choose someone just for that post.
House and Senate Democrats quickly reacted to the news.
“Joe Garcia has simply been a tremendous asset to Colorado,” said Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. “I have no doubt that his record of exemplary service will continue at WICHE.”
Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, added that Garcia has been a tireless advocate for Colorado’s Native American residents, in his position as head of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs.
Garcia will replace David Longanecker, who is retiring after 17 years at WICHE.
“I’ve had one of the best careers of anyone I’ve ever known,” Longanecker told The Independent today. But high-performing organizations, such as WICHE, needs new leadership every once in awhile, he said, adding “I don’t think there’s a better person to take over than Joe Garcia.”
In the meantime, everybody’s asking who Hickenlooper’s going to appoint to replace Garcia.
Photo credit: Mike Johnston, Creative Commons, Flickr.