The Colorado Woman
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From Where She Sits
As the governor’s chief of staff, Roxane White is responsible for the daily operations of the state of Colorado, including 30,000 employees and a $20 billion budget. Her ability to juggle all that’s involved in running the Centennial State is inspiring not because she’s good at it (which she is), but because she’s able to keep it all in perspective. By Lindsey B. Koehler
The restricted-access parking surrounding the Capitol is still mostly empty as Roxane White pulls her gray SUV into a space. It’s 7:55 a.m. on a sunny July day, and although many Denverites are just finishing their last cups of coffee before heading to the office, White has been up and working for more than two hours. Her day planner says she has eight meetings today, not including the breakfast appointment she just finished at Racines.
As soon as her black pumps meet the pavement, she’s in motion. Although Rox, as most everyone calls her, is barely five feet tall, the 49-year-old with strawberry blond hair and a dusting of freckles covers ground with surprising speed. White knows she only has 35 minutes before the senior staff meeting, and she wants to tick through some of the nearly 700 emails she receives each day before then. With her BlackBerry glued to one hand and a cup of decaf coffee gripped in the other, she quicksteps toward an employee entrance. Her pace slows ever so slightly when she first sees him. She tries mightily to ignore him. But then, because she can’t help herself, she stops completely and leans over to pat the head of a rust-colored golden retriever.
Anyone but White would’ve recognized the stopover as a rookie move. People who hover around the Capitol, cute dog in tow or not, often are looking to speak with someone “official.” Such is the case with Lee Somerstein, a 60-something blogger and author who’s driving across the country gathering stories about how the Great Recession has affected Americans. He wants to speak with the governor. He has left 15 messages and received zero response.
Somerstein has some leftover breakfast in his graying beard, and he’s overeager to talk to someone, but White doesn’t try to escape. Instead, she asks a perceptive question—How did the recession affect you, Lee?—and then actually listens to his tale of woe before telling him she has to run.
Which she does. She’s down to 20 minutes now. After hitting the ladies room and pouring herself another cup of decaf, White strides into the staff meeting, where she gets updates from her department heads about everything from Colorado’s medical marijuana dispensaries to the upcoming National Governors Association conference to ongoing issues within the state’s Department of Corrections. For one of the final updates, a staffer reports that Capitol security is aware of “the weird guy with the dog, who’s harassing people.” White, who just seconds before had been laughing with her colleagues and even shot her deputy chief of staff friendly double-barreled middle fingers during the 40-minute meeting, bristles at the idea that Somerstein and his dog, Trooper, are a menace. “He was just talking to people about the recession, about how it ruined his life,” she says with a hint of admonition. “I like talking to people like him. It gives me perspective.”