Michigan Government in Transition panel talks transition from campaign to governing

Sunday, September 29, 2019 - 3:08pm

Transition Leader and Senior Advisor to Governor Snyder, Rich Baird, discusses the challenges faced when transitioning between administrations after the election of a new governor.

Transition Leader and Senior Advisor to Governor Snyder, Rich Baird, discusses the challenges faced when transitioning between administrations after the election of a new governor. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

The Domestic Policy Corps and the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy held a Governor Transition Leaders Panel Friday afternoon at the Ford School of Public Policy.. The event featured six speakers, all of whom worked on various Michigan gubernatorial transitions. About 50 people, the majority of them graduate students, attended. 

The event began with questions from DPC and CLOSUP directed to specific panelists. The first question was for Anne Mervenne, director of appointments under Engler, about how campaign promises are fulfilled once in office. 

Mervenne explained the importance of tracking each promise the candidate made. When she worked on transition teams, they tracked every event the candidate promised to attend or action they promised to take. She also addressed the importance of candidates being honest and realistic with what they will be able to do once in office. 

“No one should run for office making promises that sound good unless they can really try to keep those promises and have some integrity,” Mervenne said.

Awenate Cobbina, executive director of the Detroit Pistons Foundation, served as deputy director of Whitmer’s transition team. He explained it can be hard to manage the requests of different stakeholders, both during the campaign and while in office. Like Mervenne, his team also had a spreadsheet to track of commitments made by the candidate. 

“This is partially staffed by people that are on the campaign,” Cobbina said. “They would know what was on there and have a tracking system, and make sure those promises get eventually enacted. As we all know, the public and different stakeholders are not shy about making sure their policy priorities are taken care of.” 

The discussion then moved to the logistics of the transition. The questions specifically focused on the need for a separate campaign staff and transition team, as well as how the transition team prepared for and staffed for the new administration. 

John Burchett, former chief of staff to Jennifer Granholm, explained why it's important for the transition team and campaign team to be divided. Burchett said if a campaign is publicly known to be planning their transition, it can appear as if they are sure they will win the election and deter potential supporters. 

In order to prevent this, staff independent of the campaign are often brought in to quietly work on transition planning, he said. Burchett talked about his experience getting involved with the Granholm transition in this way. 

“So, I was assigned to it in July,” Burchett said. “I said, ‘Let me go write up a plan.’ I get all this private research, I was sitting in D.C.And then I had that wonderful position in a campaign where I showed up on the first of October, I was one of the only people who had an office and no one was allowed to know what I was working on.”  

Burchett also explained transition team members should differ from those who worked on the campaign. 

“The day of the election, everyone is absolutely exhausted.” Burchett said. “This is when you need a few people who haven’t been through that exhaustion to start to step up. This is when I went 24/7 for the next 10 weeks. The people who had been doing that for 18 months, they needed a vacation.” 

Public Policy graduate student Taylor Rovin told The Daily she attended because she felt she was not as familiar with Michigan politics as she felt she should be.

“My friends told me about the event and I was really interested,” Robin said. “I haven’t spent a lot of time looking into state politics, so I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to learn more about it.” 

She also discussed the career advice shared by the panelists, how networking has influenced her own career search, and what students can do to make professional connections. 

“I think the emphasis on networking is really important,” Robin explained. “As daunting as it may seem, go talk to these people. It’s also really important and establishing your LinkedIn and making sure you keep your connections with everyone you’ve worked with. They talked about that a lot, and I’ve found that’s helped me in my personal life, too.”