washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


One of the least appreciated tasks in governing is simply getting started after an initial election. Candidates must stop grinding their teeth and think seriously about the office they have been lusting for. Campaign promises and rhetoric have to be reviewed for relevance to objective reality. Loyal and hard-working campaign staff have to be considered in terms of their qualifications for the very different work of an actual public office. And most of all, there’s the delicate process of “transition,” of actually shifting responsibility and essential knowledge from a sometimes-hostile lame duck to the new kid on the block. I’ve heard stories of new regimes landing on the beach to find locks changed, computer operating systems deleted, even light bulbs removed.
And in election years when there is a lot of turnover, this whole process of transition absorbs an amazing amount of time and creates an equally amazing amount of inefficiency. This is particularly true in executive branch transitions, which affect the most jobs and services. Twenty-seven states have just elected new governors; in eighteen of those states, a change in party control occurred.
In some places government will be put on automatic pilot during the transition period, but given the fragile state of most state governments and their budgets, a lot of damage is going to be inflicted in terms of bad government between now and the time that new state administrations get up and running next year and begin shedding campaign staff and campaign illusions.
It’s a shame incumbent governors can’t just come out and say on the campaign trail: “You know, I may not be the greatest executive who’s ever worn shoes, but if you elect my opponent, he’s going to spend two or three months admiring himself in the mirror, two or three more months trying to find his own butt with two hands, and two or three more months after that getting played for a sucker by legislators, agency heads, and his own staff. Stick with the devil you know, folks.”
They can’t, of course, and in “wrong track” eras like our own, experience is generally not a highly rated quality. But as we sort through the results of this election cycle and begin thinking about the next, it’s important to acknowledge for a moment the confusion and disarray that’s occurring all over the country wherever winners and losers are settling up.

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