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Politics of Gov Tech: Which CIOs Might the Midterms Imperil?

With gubernatorial elections in 36 states this November, some state CIOs may want to consider the implications of politics on their job prospects. The data suggests that elections can bring about changes in leadership.

A row of empty voting booths.
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State CIOs are some of the most influential voices on setting state-level IT policy. Their voice and vision can sway a state’s standing in the gov tech sector. As the U.S. approaches the Nov. 8 midterm elections, they must grapple with the reality that their positions are often tied up with the politics of state, even if the job is nonpartisan.

The position of state CIO is usually appointed directly by the governor of a state, meaning that a governor’s beliefs, politics and network can deeply influence who they select as head of their state’s IT infrastructure.

Based on data from the past decade collected by Government Technology, about 12 state CIOs leave their posts each year. On average, 75 percent of state CIOs are still in their jobs after one year.

But when a state gets a new governor, that figure significantly drops. Only 40 percent of CIOs “survive” a gubernatorial transition, with that number dropping further to 31 percent when the governor’s seat changes parties.

While some of these transitions are coincidental, they can also be the result of pointed political fights.

Virginia’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign saw a political fight surrounding the state’s cybersecurity operation, which was overseen by six-year CIO Nelson Moe at the time. Within a week of Republican Glenn Youngkin taking over from Democrat Ralph Northam, Moe stepped down and was replaced by former Kansas CITO Phil Wittmer. Wittmer would himself leave the post within a month of starting and be replaced by Robert Osmond.
While predicting the future of the country’s politics is impossible, we can make educated guesses about which states might be facing a shift in political leadership after the midterm elections.

At the top of the list of potential shifts in political power are Maryland and Massachusetts. Both East Coast states are facing a guaranteed change in governor. Despite the two states currently having Republican governors, the political website FiveThirtyEight reports that the Democratic candidates win in more than 99 percent of their simulated elections based on aggregated polling data. The political analysis firm Cook Political Report gives both races a “Solid Democrat” rating.

Maryland’s current CIO is Michael Leahy, who has been in the role since March 2017. Leahy is also past president of the National Association of State CIOs. Massachusetts’ current CIO is Curtis Wood, who has been in the role since January 2019. Both men were appointed by Republicans.

The last time the governorship switched parties in both Maryland and Massachusetts, the state’s CIO was replaced within a year.

Pennsylvania will have a new governor after the elections, with forecasters favoring Democrat Josh Shapiro as the successor to current Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. CIO John MacMillan has already announced that he will step down from his post in November.

Arizona and Oregon also have a guaranteed change in governor, though they may or may not have a change in political party. Both FiveThirtyEight and Cook rate the two races as a “toss up” between the two candidates.

Three other states are also guaranteed to see a governor change after this election: Arkansas, Hawaii and Nebraska. These states are all unlikely to see a change in party control, given that FiveThirtyEight and Cook both rate the elections as “solid” races with the likely winner being the same party as the current governors.

There are another 29 elections, though they all are rated by FiveThirtyEight and CPR to at least lean toward an incumbent victory. Ten of those 19 races are rated as being “solid” wins for the incumbent.

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Editor's note: This article has been corrected to add Pennsylvania to the list of states guaranteed to see a change in governor.
Andrew Adams is a data reporter for Government Technology. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield.
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.