Maryland’s governor-elect has two months to put together a team of staff, pick cabinet secretaries, draft a legislative agenda and propose a budget. And plan an inauguration, too.
Democrat Wes Moore, who was victorious over Republican Dan Cox in the general election, was afforded something rare in politics: confidence that he would likely win.
Even so, Moore and his team focused on ensuring they would win rather than on getting a head start on the transition from campaigning to governing.
Moore’s team declined to make anyone available for an interview ahead of Election Day about the transition process. But rumors about the transition have been swirling in political circles, particularly about who is applying for which job and who might be hired by the next governor.
As far back as August, reporters asked Moore about his transition process, noting that people had been sending resumes his way at an annual political conference. Moore demurred and said he was focused on winning first.
“I am not taking November lightly, and we are running into November understanding what’s at stake,” Moore said at the time.
Now that Moore has won the election, he has to turn his focus to getting ready to govern.
From now until inauguration on the steps of the State House in Annapolis on Jan. 18, Moore and his team face a long to-do list of tasks.
Moore can expect to get a call soon from outgoing Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is heading up the handover of the reins of government from the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan. Rutherford’s already started work on the documents and expects to connect with the Moore team quickly.
The first conversation will likely be cursory, just exchanging contact information for key players from the Hogan team and the Moore team.
Rutherford — who has been the detail person in the Hogan administration for eight years — has been working with dozens of state agencies on transition prep. Each agency is charged with writing a report to hand over to the new team, and they’ve assigned a liaison from each agency to work with the transition group.
“The main thing is that you want to make sure there’s a continuity of operations, a continuity of government,” Rutherford said during an interview in his State House office last week. “You want to make sure that when the new group comes in on Jan. 18 at 12:01, that they’re able to basically take the keys and know what’s going on and continue to operate. That there are no surprises.”
Some of the reports cover nuts-and-bolts operations of state government. There also will be significant issues and initiatives that spill over from one administration to the next, and Moore will need to decide whether to continue on the same track or change course.
Among them: construction of the Purple Line in the D.C. suburbs, Hogan’s plans to build privately operated toll lanes on certain highways, Hogan’s plans to empty out the State Center office complex and turn it over to the City of Baltimore, and implementation of a computer system for state agencies known as MD THINK.
Launching the transition team
The Hogan administration has set aside office space for the Moore transition team in the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis, home to the Department of Natural Resources. The Moore transition team can work there, work in their own space, or both.
When Hogan was elected in 2014, his team used the Tawes office space but did most of their work from their campaign headquarters a few miles away. When Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley was elected in 2006, his transition team worked out of the state’s William Donald Schaefer Tower in downtown Baltimore.
Though Moore’s team has yet to discuss their plans, transitions typically follow a pattern.
Moore is likely to name a transition team — a group of advisors who will guide Moore as he hires people for government jobs and sets out plans for reshaping government after eight years under Hogan’s leadership.
Transition teams can be unwieldy affairs with dozens of members, often broken into various subcommittees. Some transition team members will do more work than others.
Moore could also soon name some key hires, such as a chief of staff, communications director and special advisors.
The core staff and transition team must juggle multiple tasks. Ralph S. Tyler, executive director of O’Malley’s transition team, named four top priorities: hiring key staff, understanding the state budget, developing proposals to send to the legislature, and writing the inaugural address and the first state of the state speech.
Most importantly, Moore will need to set up a team and systems to take care of minor tasks to free him up to focus on his larger goals, said Tyler, who worked for the O’Malley administration and in President Barack Obama’s administration and is now a lawyer in private practice.
“The great challenge of the work of government is that you can keep yourself incredibly busy all the time just doing what’s coming in, but if that’s all you do, by the end of your time in government you really haven’t accomplished much,” Tyler said. “You’ve got to have clear objectives and a clear-eyed view of what you want to do, so at the end of the time you can say, ‘We set out to do this and we actually did it.’”
Making key hires
Hiring can be one of the most time-consuming tasks for a new governor.
Most of the tens of thousands of state government and university system employees are merit employees who continue in their jobs, regardless of who is governor. But there are also 7,970 positions in state government where the workers serve at the discretion of the governor. Of those, 355 are classified as “political special appointments,” such as cabinet secretaries and deputy secretaries.
After eight years under a Republican governor, there are plenty of people eager for a job under a Democratic governor, and Moore is probably already being “hounded” by people who want jobs in his administration, Tyler said.
“There will be lots of people who will be offering you services and who want jobs, and you’ll have to figure out a way to screen them and have a system for identifying potential candidates for the governor-elect to consider and ultimately choose,” Tyler said.
Moore can have an impact on the rank-and-file state government workforce, too. Unions that represent state workers are hoping the Moore administration will have a renewed focus on bolstering the state workforce after eight years of a shrinking workforce under Hogan.
At many state agencies, as many as 20% of positions are unfilled, making it challenging to carry out the government’s important tasks, from safeguarding prisoners to processing unemployment claims, according to Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, the largest union for state workers.
“How do you attract people to come and work for the state again? That’s the elephant in the room,” Moran said. “We have ideas how you do it, but the current administration never bothered to even ask or look at it or address it. They just wanted to put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound and hope it would heal or close. It hasn’t.”
AFSCME’s members endorsed Moore in the election and they’re “optimistic” he understands their needs and will focus on hiring and retaining state workers, Moran said.
Proposing a ‘combination’ budget
While the outgoing Hogan administration will stay out of the governor-elect’s personnel picks, they will coordinate on the state budget. Moore’s first budget proposal as governor is due to the General Assembly just two days after he is inaugurated.
Developing a budget is a monthslong process that involves cabinet secretaries, budget officials and the governor’s top team holding meetings and determining which programs might need a boost in funds and where spending should be cut back.
Much of the work for the next proposal is already done, and Hogan’s team will brief Moore’s team so they can make their own tweaks.
“There will be some collaboration,” Rutherford said. “What happened with us, when we came in, our budget people sat in the meetings with the budget secretary … so that they could see what was going on and then bring some of that back to our offices to talk it over with the governor.”
The result, Rutherford said, was a “combination” budget combining the work of the outgoing O’Malley team and the incoming Hogan team.
The state’s financial picture is strong, and Rutherford predicts that the new Democratic governor will field scores of requests to fund new programs or expand existing programs. But with dark economic clouds looming, Rutherford said the new governor should be cautious.
“I think that their challenge is going to be that there are a lot of people, when that legislative session starts, who are going to want to do a lot of things,” Rutherford said. “They’re going to be expecting things that he may or may not be able to deliver.”
Moore will also need to decide which of his many campaign promises to pursue during his first General Assembly session, and how to convince lawmakers to support his bills.
Even though Moore is a Democrat and the legislature has strong Democratic control — and many Democratic lawmakers who campaigned for Moore — the governor-elect’s initiatives aren’t guaranteed to sail to passage.
To get his initiatives through the General Assembly, he’ll rely on a chief legislative officer. He could make that pick from among current and former lawmakers, from lobbyists working for local governments or perhaps from the corps of privately-employed contract lobbyists in Annapolis.
The new governor will have ground to make up in the race to pass bills before the end of the 90-day legislative session, as he’ll be sworn in after lawmakers already will have started their work.
“By the time the new governor is inaugurated, the General Assembly session will be under way,” said Tyler from O’Malley’s transition team. “It will be important to whoever the governor is to have some initiatives in his first year.”
There also are scores of smaller details that will be changing after eight years under one governor.
For starters, there are 59 signs on highways and other transportation facilities that feature the governor’s name that will have to be changed.
When Hogan was inaugurated in 2015, he ordered that the tagline “We’re Open For Business” be added to the highway welcome signs, signaling his intention to foster a more business-friendly climate in the state.
Then there’s the matter of the photos of the governor that hang in government offices across the state, from Motor Vehicle Administration branches to social services offices to Maryland State Police barracks.
The framed photos of Hogan will come down and framed photos of Moore will go up.
Countless pages on the state government’s array of websites will get an update, as will letterheads, brochures and other printed materials.
Hogan and his wife, Yumi Hogan, will move out of Government House, the governor’s official residence in Annapolis that’s more commonly called the governor’s mansion. They bought a mansion in Davidsonville last year for their post-governing life.
The residence staff and officials with the Maryland State Archives will work with the new governor’s family on changes they’d like to make. The Moores have not said whether or when they’ll move to the governor’s mansion from their home in Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood.
Planning a party
There’s also one big party to plan.
Just like presidents, Maryland’s governors typically have an inaugural party or gala to celebrate.
Under a state law approved in 2015, the Moore team will need to establish an inaugural committee to accept donations and pay the expenses for the party. The details will be reported publicly to the Maryland State Board of Elections, in a similar fashion to campaign finance reports.
But unlike campaign finance reports, donors to the inaugural committee aren’t subject to any donation limit.
Hogan and Rutherford held their second inaugural gala in 2019 at the MGM National Harbor Casino, with the governor emerging onstage carrying a purple surfboard, symbolic of how he used a bipartisan or “purple” message to ride to victory atop a Democratic blue wave. An estimated 3,000 people attended the party, with tickets going for $150 apiece.
The Hogan-Rutherford Inaugural Committee raised and spent about $1.66 million for the 2019 inauguration, according to the committee’s public report.
Hogan’s 2015 inaugural gala was held at the Baltimore Convention Center, with tickets selling for $100 and an array of corporate sponsors listed. But the details of donations and expenses were not required to be disclosed publicly, a fact that inspired lawmakers to require disclosures going forward.
Hogan also held a second, more casual “people’s celebration” a few days later on the Eastern Shore, featuring country music and $25 ticket prices.
The governor before Hogan, Baltimore’s O’Malley, also served two terms and got two inaugural balls.
His first, in 2007, was at the Baltimore Convention Center and featured the Saw Doctors, an Irish rock band. O’Malley’s second inaugural party, in 2011, was a more low-key affair at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore.
Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was so popular when he was inaugurated in 2003 that his first gala at the Baltimore Convention Center sold out and he had to book a second party at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
There’s no word yet where Moore and his supporters plan to get their groove on and celebrate their victory.