Though the American political machine has chugged on for more than 200 years, it has never worked gracefully: a municipal government wishing to assess a new tax on a neighborhood to pay for street lights has to ask for permission; the procedure of turning a bill into a law was purposefully designed to be an obstacle-strewn, frustrating path; and electing officials to represent the public is an unpredictable process that never seems to get easier.
Elections bring new political blood to state capitols, and no state agency is safe from the repercussions of political turnover. Though that's politics as usual, the status of IT projects as high-profile endeavors that politicians pay close attention to is a new phenomenon, and CIOs will have to take the right steps to ensure the long-term success and life of such projects.
Thirty-six states will be electing governors this year, and 46 states will see races for state senators and representatives.
"Both of them will have extremely high turnover this time around," said Tim Storey, elections analyst of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It just so happens that this 2002 election is one where you've got the biggest spike in a number of races for governor. You also have a big spike of governors stepping down."
Storey said approximately half of the governors' races are for open seats, meaning the potential for 18 new governors in the country. Additionally, more than 6,200 candidates for state senators and representatives will also be running in political races.
The two factors causing the high turnover in the state capitols are redistricting and term limits, he said, noting that the redistricting process itself sours many incumbents from running for office, leading to a large number of retirements.
"Average legislative turnover is in the 17 [percent] to 28 percent range," Storey said. "With this redistricting year coming up and, in past redistricting cycles, you can assume that legislative turnover is going to be 25 percent and maybe higher. Term limits for state legislators is a relatively recent phenomenon; really, it's only been in the last 10 years that voters, through the initiative process, have placed term limits on their legislators, so term limits are just now taking effect in a number of states."
Worst Case Scenari
Michigan faces the greatest amount of turnover in its Legislature, Storey said: Almost 75 percent of the state's Senate will be taken out by term limits.
"Some of those are House members going to the Senate, so they'll have some knowledge of state government," he said. "They'll have some knowledge of the IT infrastructure of the state, so you may not have to start from scratch in terms of the education."
For CIOs, the message is straightforward.
"You had better be preparing a strategy to educate those policy-makers on the information infrastructure of the state, the investment that the state has made and the history of that investment," said Storey. "Legislators - it's wired into their DNA; that's their job to take out the fine-tooth comb."
He pointed out that CIOs will have to focus on educating incoming legislators because term limits mean they will be the leadership in as little as two to four years. "You really need to make an effort to reach out to them when they're coming in the door," he said.
Another challenge is the political parity between the two major parties, which have nearly the same number of seats in state legislatures and control nearly the same number of chambers across the country -- something that has not happened in almost a decade, Storey said.
"It's a competitive year, and you expect surprises," he said. "Expect that the majority party could go down in whatever chamber you're looking at because both parties are very competitive right now.