Alford: Gubernatorial candidates need to speak up about transition teams


If John Bel Edwards and Eddie Rispone want to inject a bit of honest vision into what remains of the governor’s race, they should be prepared to discuss the scopes, characters and policy issues that would drive their respective transition teams. 

While it’s sometimes considered poor practice to put the cart before the horse in politics, this election should serve as a good reason to do just that, especially since the race has left us few other choices to get to know the candidates. 

After being elected, each new governor in recent memory has created a transition team to see them through the inauguration. More times than not, money is raised for the effort and committee members are appointed to birddog individual policy topics and recommend names for top hires and appointments. 

When Gov. Edwards claimed his term in the fall of 2015, his transition team members were largely named and already accepting applications for his new administration in late November. By early December, a few of those top hires, like Jay Dardenne as commissioner of administration, were revealed. 

Aside from the policy issues that the candidates have either avoided or offered vague visions on, there’s not much more to be learned when it comes to Edwards and Rispone. Moreover, with the runoff slated for Nov. 16, it’s doubtful the campaigns for either man are going to be releasing any last-minute, carefully-plotted policy platforms.

If voters want to know what the state government will look like during the next four years, the coming transition process will show all. It will be an important step toward the next gubernatorial term, and the runoff candidates are each facing different sets of challenges. 

Should Rispone win the election, he’ll likely mirror Edwards’ 2015 efforts and the path paved by former Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2007. Rispone will start by appointing someone to head up the transition process, and that individual will have considerable sway at the Capitol during that period.

A Rispone transition team would be charged with overhauling departments and agencies that Republicans have criticized during Edwards’ term. Many people will be let go, several new faces would appear and the upper reaches of the state government’s management structure reshuffled.

The more we can find out about the decisions to come, and who will be influencing them, the better off we will be as a state. 

Should Edwards win the election, he’ll already have the benefit of participating in the 2015 transition process, and most of his administration will be waiting on him to return to work after the runoff. There wasn’t much of a second transition team when Jindal was re-elected in 2011, and it’s doubtful Edwards’ second transition would offer anything more significant. 

But maybe Edwards should have a second transition of sorts, or at least be ready to answer questions regarding his next administration. Turnover between terms is only natural, and another Edwards administration would no doubt suffer some vacancies, possibly in some high-profile jobs. Who is leaving the Edwards administration and who will be replacing them would be as valuable for voters to know as who will lead Rispone’s transition team.

Four years ago, the Edwards transition team worked out of the 12th floor of Kirby Smith Hall on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, which was also the same location that Jindal’s team used in 2007. That gives LSU leaders a leg up that other government-funded entities would certainly enjoy, but politicos in this state love a good tradition.

The fluorescent-lit hallways, slow elevator and old dorm rooms add a bit of charm to the process, after all. Attorneys, engineers, consultants, legislators, department heads, elected officials and others will all want a piece of the action. 

We’ve recently seen suggestions from opinion writers that voters could benefit from the formation of a gubernatorial debate commission, which would function somewhat like the Commission on Presidential Debates. Maybe a similar outfit to better guide and oversee gubernatorial transitions would be helpful to voters as well.   

The job of a transition team is massive, with usually only five or six weeks to get it all done. To handle the task, Edwards’ transition team created seven core committees in 2015, including those with oversight of transportation; public safety; children and family services; k-12 education; economic development; higher education; and fiscal matters. 

The entire affair, from office equipment and staff to the inaugural ball, can cost a campaign and transition team upwards to $1 million to $2 million (for a completely new administration). For its undertakings, the Edwards’ transition team raised $1.4 million. By law, the state pays $65,000 for the transition, but the vast majority of the funds come from political donors. 

Given the number of policy issues that have been investigated by the forums, debates, special interest questionnaires and general media coverage, what would happen during and after the coming transition process should be a new and intense area of focus for voters. 

In fact, it may be the only real issue remaining that actually matters in this race.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com