How will 2018 elections impact state CIOs, IT industry, chickens & pigs?

My old friend, Jerry Mechling, when he was at the Kennedy School of Government, use to tell the story about involvement versus commitment when it came to implementing reform in government. It was commitment that was critical to its success.

“It’s like the ham and egg sandwich,” he said. “The chicken is involved but the pig is committed.”

As to the impact of upcoming elections, a state chief information officer whose governor wins reelection is involved, but when their governor retires or loses, they’re the pig.

So look for a major shake-up in the “committed” state CIO ranks this November with some 36 gubernatorial elections scheduled and more than likely odds that there will be many as a score or more of new bosses in state capital corner offices come early 2019.

It may not be as drastic a change as the massacre resulting from the 2010 election when 31 new governors were elected resulting in 26 new state CIOs. However,  with Republicans the victims of their previous successes in 2010 and 2014, they hold lopsided margins with 26 incumbents to the Democrats 9 (and 1 independent), and statistically at least that means the GOP has far more at risk this November.

In addition, half of the races will be for open seats due to term limits (14 states) or retirements (four seats), so at the very least there will be 18 new state chief executives.

While a change in party all but guarantees the arrival of the new governor’s CIO, even if the seat remains in the former incumbent’s party, history has shown that the incumbent’s appointees including the CIO are in jeopardy. Career is over, right?

If we take a look at recent polling we see as many as 11 states flipping parties, with the results favoring the Democrats overwhelmingly.

Of the Republican seats up for election two lean Democrat:

  • Illinois-Rauner
  • New Mexico-Open

or are toss-ups:

  • Florida-Open
  • Iowa-Reynolds
  • Kansas-Open
  • Maine-Open
  • Michigan-Open
  • Nevada-Open
  • Ohio-Open

On the Democratic side, none are likely flipping to Republican and only two are rated a toss-up:

  • Connecticut-Open
  • Alaska-Walker(I)

Therefore, it’s pretty safe to say that with 18 open seats, and several more probably flipping parties, as many as 20 or perhaps more states will be appointing new CIOs.

So what does that portend for the affected state’s IT workforce and its IT industry partners?

Initially at least, the former are unaffected except at the highest levels of the Office of the CIO, where CIO direct reports both appointed (they’re gone) and career (reassignment possible) reside.

However, over the course of the first year of a new administration, much could in fact change as the new regime finds it footing and begins to implement significant new policies and initiatives, including re-organization, consolidation, procurement and, of course, funding priorities.

It doesn’t always follow this path of course. Some incoming governors are either wary of potential IT problems or agnostic as to IT’s constructive role in effective governance. As a result, IT investment and management fall off the chief executives’ radar, oftentimes to their ultimate regret.

I remember well when Gov. Bill Weld appointed me as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ first CIO in the early 1990s, becoming arguably the first state CIO in the country and empowered me with a broad, sweeping agenda backed by the priceless support of his office.

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I also remember the disappointing day when incoming California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2010 kicked his CIO out of the Cabinet, downgrading the CIO cabinet agency to one of many departments reporting to a government operations agency (against my celebrated testimony to the state’s “good government watchdog”, The Little Hoover Commission).

Of course over in the “dreaded private sector,” the worst nightmare of defeated politicians as we use to refer to it in Boston, the smart IT vendors (and regrettably far too few) have been planning for the succession for months, preparing strategic IT action plans, priorities and recommendations; and getting them in front of the candidates and their campaign teams, and eventually, and especially, to the transition teams themselves. Woe to the vendors comfortable with their established base and who just sit by adopting a reactive approach. The activist vendors may just have them for lunch.

Much like the popular but apocryphal story of the Chinese word for “crisis” being composed of two Chinese characters signifying “danger” and “opportunity,” the upcoming changes in state CEOs will have a major impact on IT operations in many states. It’s a dangerous time for CIOs whose bosses are changing, and vendors who act complacent in the face of these changes.

However, it’s a great opportunity for CIOs who are staying and especially for the new CIO appointees to set fresh and innovative agendas on behalf of their bosses, the new governors. And as usual it will be very helpful if the IT industry conveys their enthusiasm and support not only with the CIOs but more importantly with the governor’s office as well.

As for the pigs, pardon any disparagement and possibly mixed metaphors, update your résumés, and bring them to the NASCIO Annual Conference in San Diego in late October. You’ll have plenty of company.