Gubernatorial Races Promise Changes to the C-Suite

The presidential election Nov. 8 undeniably shifted the national political power structure, but changes at the state level remain unclear as the impacts of governors' races continue to play out.

by / November 9, 2016
FT LAUDERDALE, FL - OCTOBER 20: Residents stand in line to on the first day of early voting at the Lauderhill Mall October 20, 2008 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Thousands of voters stood in line, some for hours, as Florida kicked -off the states early votiong polls. (Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/Getty Images) Zach Boyden-Holmes/Getty Images

The surprising victory that was the election of Donald J. Trump as president on Nov. 8 undercut the media’s focus on the gubernatorial elections happening in a dozen states. While the races were arguably not as nail-biting as the presidential showdown, the changes to state leadership will no doubt reverberate through the public-sector technology community, and at some level, upset the apple carts of at least a few CIOs.

Though the executives planted in states that did not change from one party to another may have slightly less to worry about in the coming months, those staring down the barrel of new administrations and new ideologies will likely be faced with circulating their resumes before January. But this is not to say that new governors in states that held won’t want to rebrand the administration with their own people.

Just like many experts overlooked the possibility of a Trump victory over the arguably more experienced and battle-hardened former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, election night also brought about some surprising results in states like Missouri, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Delaware Stayed Blue 
In Delaware, voters opted to carry over their Democratic leanings with the election of John Carney as the governor-elect. Carney will replace Democrat Jack Markell, who held the state’s highest office since his election in 2008. State CIO James Collins, who was appointed by Markell in 2014, most notably worked to open the state’s data sets under Executive Order 57 and has been a champion for data analytics in government. Despite the holding of ideological territory, it is uncertain what kind of cabinet Governor-Elect Carney will bring to the state.

Indiana Stayed Red
The home state of Gov. and Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence held its status as a Republican-governed territory with the election of Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb to the governorship on election night. The fact that Holcomb is simply moving up a rung on the leadership ladder could signal that state CIO Dewand Neely is on safer ground than many others with incoming unknowns. Neely was initially appointed by Pence in 2015, and is perhaps best known for his role in targeting opioid addiction through the use of data analytics.

Missouri Turned Red
Missouri was one Democratic territory that did not fare well in the Republican takeover of 2016. Voters replaced two-term outgoing Democrat Jay Nixon with Republican Eric Greitens, who won out over Democratic challenger Chris Koster in a 51 percent to 45 percent showdown. State CIO Rich Kliethermes was appointed by Nixon in 2015, and will likely face replacement under a new administration. The executive replaced former state CIO Tim Robyn last year and has spent his time working on initiatives to improve the state’s use of metrics and better its data management standing. 

Montana Held by Incumbent
Montana CIO Ron Baldwin won’t likely have anything to worry about as the post-election dust settles. Baldwin, who was appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock in 2013, will likely remain as part of his cabinet, barring some unforeseen reorganization on the part of the administration. Bullock beat out Republican challenger Greg Gianforte in a tight race 50 percent to 47 percent.  

New Hampshire Turned Red
Despite Democrats losing their gubernatorial hold on the state, New Hampshire’s CIO Denis Goulet doesn’t have a thing to worry about, at least with regard to his tenure at the state. According to a 2015 conversation with Goulet, he holds a termed position of four years that will carry over halfway into the next administration. With Gov. Maggie Hassan running for the Senate, the race came down to Republican Chris Sununu taking the title of governor-elect in a tight 49 percent to 47 percent race against Democratic challenger Colin Van Ostern.

North Carolina Too Close to Call
Republican incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory is locked neck-in-neck with Democratic challenger and Attorney General Roy Cooper, who leads McCrory by 4,772 votes per the most recent Associated Press count. While a McCrory victory would likely signal no change in the administration or for state CIO Keith Werner, a defeat by Cooper would almost certainly mean a sweeping regime change. Werner was appointed to the executive office in 2015. The next governor of North Carolina won't be determined officially until sometime between Nov. 18 and Nov. 29.

North Dakota Stayed VERY Red
Unsurprisingly, North Dakota voters signaled their Republican Party alliance with the sweeping defeat of Democrat candidate and state Congressman Marvin Nelson. Governor-Elect Doug Burgum garnered a whopping 77 percent of the vote, while Nelson struggled through the race with only 19 percent. This turn of events could be some signal of the safety of CIO Mike Ressler, who has held the post since 2013, but it also could signal an administrative shift toward a new executive team.

Oregon Stayed Blue
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown held onto her title despite opposition from Republican challenger Bud Pierce. Brown stepped into the governorship following the resignation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber and his allegations of influence-peddling in 2015. The voters' clear choice to retain Brown signals a safe future for Oregon CIO Alex Pettit, who was initially appointed in 2014. At present, there are no signs the administration plans to change its direction in the coming months.  

Utah Held by Incumbent
Utah CIO Michael Hussey seems to be in the same position as Montana’s Ron Baldwin. Incumbent Republican Gov. Gary Herbert held his title over Democratic challenger Mike Weinholtz by a large margin. For the sitting CIO, the rollover of the administration signals a likely continuation of his tenure. Hussey was appointed to the state’s chief IT role in 2015.  

Vermont Turned Red
Democratically led Vermont fell to Republican leadership after Tuesday’s votes were tallied. The race between Governor-Elect Phil Scott and Democrat Sue Minter came down to a nine-point split and signaled a very real shift away from Gov. Peter Shumlin. The move will no doubt mean some career disruption for state CIO Richard Boes, who was appointed in 2011. 

Washington Held by Incumbent 
Washington incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, held his position over Republican challenger Bill Bryant. Inslee has been governor since 2013 and won the state with a 12-point lead. The win will likely mean no impact to state CIO Michael Cockrill, who has also been at his post since being appointed in 2013.    

West Virginia Stayed Blue
The impending term expiration of Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin set the stage for a fresh administration for either side of the ideological aisle, but ultimately fell to a Democrat Jim Justice by a margin of seven percentage points. While state leadership did not fall to the other party, it does not mean state CIO Gale Given is safe from disruption. Given started her tenure in 2012. It remains to be seen whether she will be kept on to lead the state’s technology efforts.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.