Some things in life aren’t fair, and what Eric Greitens is enduring right now is definitely one of those things.
In the span of two months, Greitens faces a breathtaking to-do list. He’s got to pull himself together from his exhilarating, upset win over Democrat Chris Koster for Missouri governor. Then he’s got to prepare a little $24 billion document called the state budget. Then there’s the need for a legislative agenda and, hey!, what type of constituent services operation do you want?
At the same time, Greitens has to make a series of critical personnel decisions, assembling a team that will help him on his journey.
By the way, he’s got to write a couple of big speeches that will set the tone for his burgeoning administration: a State of the State message and an inaugural address, both in January, that will capture far more attention that anything he did during the campaign.
He must do all this as a political newcomer who knows little of the traditions of Jefferson City. And he must do this as the first Republican to hold the office in eight years, meaning the idea of holdover staffers sticking around indefinitely probably isn’t happening.
All this qualifies as overwhelming and cruel and unusual punishment for the victor of the state’s top office.
Plainly put, it’s too much. But this is the way it’s been done for generations, and longtime Missouri political observers don’t have many answers for how it could be done differently.
Former Gov. Bob Holden, who took office in 2001, recalls it as a “crush of activity.”
“You don’t get to sleep,” says Chuck Hatfield, a former aide to Jay Nixon when he was attorney general.
“It’s huge,” said Ken McClure, who managed former Gov. Matt Blunt’s transition in 2004. “It’s literally 24-7.”
Thanksgiving? Christmas? McClure worked those days.
“There was not a lot of holiday spirit that year,” he said.
You don’t have much choice. A successful transition is key to a successful administration, McClure said. Just ask Holden, who threw what some regarded as a too-lavish inauguration celebration in the wake of Gov. Mel Carnahan’s death that dogged him throughout his four-year term.
The key step?
That’s easy, McClure said. The budget. That means a deep dive into the minutia of state government and dozens of agencies that any incoming governor probably knows little about. The Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, anybody?
McClure was already a veteran of state government by the time he took on Blunt’s transition. He knew his way around the Capitol. Greitens and his team don’t have that advantage and, so far, they’ve operated with surprising independence from longtime Jeff City insiders.
Whether that works for the transition remains to be seen.
But Greitens has one edge, and that’s cooperation from outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon.
“That’s huge,” McClure said.
If he could wave a magic wand, Hatfield might wait another month before inaugurating a new governor. But adjusting this jam-packed calender isn’t easily done. The General Assembly begins its work in early January. By law, it has to complete its work on the budget in early May. Delaying the inauguration only complicates that process.
McClure’s counsel? Cut the new governor a little slack.
“It’s a lot of stuff,” he said.