State Policy Network
Three tips for working with new governors

By Sal Nuzzo, Vice President of Policy at The James Madison Institute in Florida

Inevitably, change happens. While politicians come and go, we strive to remain a constant—a way for elected leaders to gravitate toward their “true north” and serve as a resource when everyone else is looking to ask things of them. During the campaign, a new governor will have made many policy pronouncements and proposals—some good and some not as good.

It is important to recognize an old anecdote that you “campaign in poetry and govern in prose.” The James Madison Institute team strives to be positive, realistic, and deferential with a new administration entering the maelstrom of a transition period. There are things they know, things they think they know, and things they know they don’t know.

To that end, here are three helpful tips for plugging into a new administration’s transition: 

1. Know the key players personally.

Build out an influence map of the people close to the new governor in levels of proximity and influence. These are the people you want to be available to, because they are the “whisperers” and their opinions matter to the new executive. These are the heavy fundraisers, grassroots leaders, key policy people, and aligned lobbying groups that helped on the ground from the beginning. If possible, try and do this before the election. If key players don’t know you before the victory, they will be wary of you after the victory.

2. When you make an ask—be direct and be efficient. 

Believe it or not, a governor’s new Chief of Staff has not been on pins and needles waiting for your wisdom and insights from every single 20-page white paper you’ve written since 2004. They have an entire transition to manage, jobs to fill, appointments to slot, and agendas to begin conceptualizing. If you have 10 minutes, plan to finish in seven. Have one, MAYBE two direct asks or fields of input—not your laundry list. Don’t beat around the bush. If you want to brief the new governor, come up with a realistic ask. If you want to speak to a transition team meeting, provide the why when you ask.

3. Don’t be political, but don’t be politically tone deaf. 

It doesn’t help your new administration or your organization to try and hammer away on corporate incentives when they may really need you on healthcare. Or to try and yank them to your side on criminal justice when the real pressing need is school choice. Know where your wheelhouse and the new administration’s agenda intersect, and make those three to five issues your first priority. There will be plenty of time to gently offer constructive criticism where needed—the transition isn’t that time. Also, recognize that there are times to be out front, and times to be in the shadows a bit—be strategic about both.

Organization: State Policy Network