Governors Helping Governors

Originally run on The Hill.

Even as the democratic process of vote-counting winds down across the country, newly elected officials are preparing to deliver on their promises to constituents. There is an incredible amount of work before the more than 20 individuals chosen for the first time lead a state, but these incoming governors won’t be going it alone.

Since 1968, the National Governors Association has hosted the Seminar for New Governors to help smooth the transition for recently elected state executives and launch productive relationships with their sitting counterparts. The 2018 event, which took place in Colorado Springs this past weekend, allows veteran governors to impart their wisdom, and invites newly selected leaders to add their insight to the mix as they prepare to become the CEO of a state.

The event comes at a critical time. The country has once again chosen divided control in Washington, D.C., and the increasingly partisan nature of our national debate is reaping federal paralysis. Craving progress and results, Americans are turning to the governments closer to them – in their states. We’re experiencing a rejuvenation of federalism, and states, serving in their time-honored role as the “laboratories of democracy,” have become key drivers of innovation.

The Seminar for New Governors seizes on this energy. We’re pleased to welcome a diverse incoming gubernatorial class. Grabbing media headlines have been big “firsts,” such as America’s first openly gay Gov.-elect Jared Polis in Colorado, first Democratic Latina Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, and Lou Leon Guerrero, the first female governor of the U.S. territory of Guam. In this “year of women,” South Dakota and Maine also elected their first female governors, Kristi Noem and Janet Mills.

And this diversity extends to their experience and background, too. Gavin Newsom will slide over from his current post as California’s lieutenant governor, while political newcomers Bill Lee of Tennessee and Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma will apply their experience running successful businesses to increasing economic opportunities in their respective states.

In this change year, voters switched parties to bring in J.B. Pritzker in Illinois, Laura Kelly in Kansas, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Steve Sisolak in Nevada, and Tony Evers in Wisconsin, all Democratic pickups. At the same time, Alaska drifted red with the election of Mike Dunleavy. Even so, there was significant continuity as well. Connecticut and Minnesota, for example, will once again be led by Democrats, now Ned Lamont and Tim Walz, while Republicans maintained control in such states as Idaho, Ohio, and Wyoming with the election of Brad Little, Mike DeWine, and Mark Gordon.

Regardless of how they arrived in the governor’s seat, taking the reins of a complex state bureaucracy is challenging. That’s why it’s valuable for new governors to hear from the few individuals who have been through the same thing. In this year’s Seminar, Govs. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), Larry Hogan (R-Md.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Daniel Malloy (D-Conn.), Gary Herbert (R-Utah), Jay Inslee (D-Was.), and Dennis Daugaard (R-S.D.) took on that initiatory role.

They discussed subjects like transitioning from the campaign to the governing phase, leading an administration, and collaborating with the legislature, business community, and major constituencies. There will also be important conversations about what it really takes to implement the agenda voters supported at the polls. And veteran governors shared personal advice on challenges like allocating the scarcest of resources for a state executive – time.

Events for governors’ spouses, who themselves are embarking on an exciting journey, explored the opportunities available to define their own unique roles. Participants heard from First Ladies Lisa Bullock of Montana, Linda Daugaard of South Dakota, and former First Gentleman Tom Hassan of New Hampshire. Many current and former governors will also participate.

As the seminar came to a close Sunday, we devoted the agenda to address timely issues such as emergency preparedness and response training. As California’s wildfires, a spate of hurricanes, and unfortunate acts of mass violence have demonstrated, such events can occur at any time – including a governor’s first day in office. To ensure every state leader is ready, we help by providing a detailed threat briefing and educating incoming governors about state emergency response systems, federal partnerships and resources, military support options, and communications technologies to direct large-scale interventions in disaster situations.

This is our mission at the National Governors Association – making sure governors have the tools they need to succeed on behalf of their constituents when it matters most. We extend our congratulations to those who have just won the most rewarding position there is, to lead a state, and we will be there to support them as they get the job done.