Report urges gubernatorial candidates to plan for transition now

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

The Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, in conjunction with its Center on the American Governor, issued this report today. It’s called “From Candidate to Governor-Elect: Recommendations for Gubernatorial Transitions.”

Eagleton Associate Director John Weingart said it’s based on interviews with former governors and their close advisors.

“Our recommendations are food for thought, really, for candidates and political professionals and people who observe that. But, one is for a candidate and nominee to choose one or two people they trust who do not want a job in the administration and give them a central role in helping to plan a transition and plan what the new Governor’s Office will look like. Some of the recommendations we have are much less dramatic. One was to get a floor plan for the governor’s office and figure out who’s going to sit where ahead of time and whose going to have which furniture, because you can have that be a major distraction in January if that hasn’t been resolved,” said Weingart.

New Jersey is one of only two states electing a governor this year. The other is Virginia. Either Democrat Phil Murphy or Republican Kim Guadagno will have to put a transition together here.

At what point should a gubernatorial candidate designate someone to start thinking about a transition?

“In the case of New Jersey and Virginia, now, when the nominee is in place and knows that Election Day will come fairly quickly and then after that the inauguration will come really quickly. So, they should be making plans now. It’s not the kind of planning that should be public, so it’s not like we can have a scorecard to say they did it or didn’t do it just not in advance. But they should be laying the groundwork now for essentially the possibility of victory,” continued Weingart.

We wondered if our candidates are laying that groundwork. The Murphy campaign declined to comment. Likewise, the Guadagno campaign said they won’t discuss the internal workings of their campaign.

“One of the things we found is that there are a fair number of candidates, they didn’t so much say this themselves as people around them said this, who are afraid of jinxing the outcome and who don’t want to talk about the transition in any substantive way or meaningful way until the votes are counted, or are afraid of seeming to be presumptuous and that’s one of the lessons we wanted out of this for those of us who observe candidates and nominees and governor elects, that we shouldn’t judge them to be presumptuous if we get wind that they’re planning for the possibility of victory,” continued Weingart.

It’s likely that Phil Murphy is giving more thought to the transition than Guadagno because she is behind him by two to one in the polls.

Can you really expect Guadagno to be expending any time and thought and energy on what to do if she wins when she is so far behind at this point? “Well, I think she should be doing that. I thing if 2016 taught us nothing, you can’t quite predict the outcome of races,” said Weingart.

Weingart suggests Guadagno is in a position similar to Donald Trump’s last year, the underdog position.

“Presidential transitions are very different, but the Trump campaign last year had 100 people working on a transition for several months before election day and they ended up not using that but they could’ve,” he said.

Chris Christie was the chairman of that. “… and Rich Baggar, and had a large staff. And he had said people came into the office everyday writing down things they expected no one would ever read because they weren’t aware of what the polls were,” said Weingart.

Some random quotes from the report:

“When it comes to bringing in outsiders (from other states), unless they have good political skills … they’re going to have problems,” said former Gov. Jim Florio.

“[The transition] is the last time you get your feet under you before the white hot light turns and you have to act as the elected official … This is the last free time you have with a lot of maneuver room,” said Former McGreevey Treasurer Sam Crane.

Former Brendan Byrne Treasurer Dick Leone said “You will make mistakes when vetting cabinet members … You depend on these people … You have to look into their souls if you can.”

And what does Weingart hope comes out of the study?

“I hope that this will encourage candidates to plan, and even in the case that someone is considered to be behind to plan and to be thoughtful about what they are going to do in an administration to recognize that the time goes by quickly,” he said.

It’s hard to say which New Jersey governors had a smooth transition and which did not. It’s a part of the process you don’t really see, but it’s safe to say and this report does say an orderly transition is a good predictor of a successful administration.