What will the next governor’s cabinet look like?

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics

As important as it is for an incoming governor to staff up with the right kind of talent, especially when it comes to their 16 key cabinet positions, it’s always surprising how rarely the topic is publicly discussed on the campaign trail.

In part, that is by design.

“The last thing you want to do is starting thinking about the transition before election day,” said Timmy Teepell, the former chief of staff and key political architect for Gov. Bobby Jindal. “People will automatically start jockeying for jobs and you end up taking your eye off the ball. People start pulling at the candidates from all kinds of angles.”

But with the current election cycle now being counted in days and weeks, rather than months, sitting secretaries and donors alike are starting to glance ahead and wonder what the next administration will look like. Who will be allowed to keep their job and who will be looking for a new one?

It’s the campaign after the campaign, traditionally overseen by a transition committee and its chairman. A new governor usually has less than two months, between the runoff and inauguration day, to piece together a cabinet consisting of the state’s top government positions. They must carry out this task with no infrastructure, which is why the next governor will probably need somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million for their transition team to oversee the massive human relations effort, the early January inauguration and the logistics for the first legislative session.

But it’s the recruiting, interviewing and hiring that makes the process so intense. The last major transition process in 2007, following Jindal’s first gubernatorial election success, held forth from a group of dorm rooms at LSU. On his first day on the job as the transition chairman, Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister already had 265 message to return — with no working phones or office staff to help.

“The transition is 10 times harder than the campaign,” Teepell said. “It’s just as important as anything else you’ll do, but the quantity of decisions that have to be made in such a short period of time is unparalleled.”

Whereas U.S. Sen. David Vitter has offered up the least in terms of what his administration might look like from a staffing perspective, saying he’s “not going to give personnel decisions any thought prematurely,” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has been the most aggressive.

During a forum organized by south Louisiana chamber groups, Dardenne singled out the $320,000 salary that former former Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret was allotted.

“My economic development director is not going to be paid what Stephen Moret has been paid,” Dardenne said. “We’re going to cut some salaries.”

The lieutenant governor has also promised to reduce the salaries of the unclassified leadership positions in the Division of Administration.

Decreasing top salaries seems to be a trend, with Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle recalling his public service in St. Martin Parish.

“When I was parish president I voluntarily reduced my salary by thousands of dollars,” he said. “I will lead in the governor’s office with that same culture.”

This is in contrast to what was Jindal’s original hiring mission, which focused on finding the best talent available and luring them to Louisiana with financial incentives. State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the lone Democratic candidate atop the gubernatorial field, plans to shift even further away from the Jindal transition model by doing the headhunting primarily in Louisiana.

“I believe we currently underutilize the vast talent and experience on policy issues that exists right here at home, among native Louisianans,” Edwards said.

The big question moving forward is who will stay and who will go. Most of the sitting secretaries and directors interviewed for this story said they were open to the possibility of moving from the Jindal administration to the next. And there are normally a handful of carryovers. Others, meanwhile, are more willing to embrace what may be the political reality of the situation.

“In my lifetime there has never been a secretary who has moved on to a second term,” said Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham of his position. “So I’m preparing for that transfer. I’ve already met with LASERS (retirement system) and I’m making plans.”

Barham added that he he would be willing to stick around, depending on the next governor’s priorities.

“But it’s high noon on Jan. 11,” he said, referring to the inauguration.

State Education Superintendent John White is fighting much harder to keep his place at the table, but he’s facing a different predicament than other department heads who actually serve in the official cabinet. That’s because White works directly for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which needs eight votes out of 11 to fire him.

The governor is allowed to appoint three of those members while the rest are elected — and all are facing challenges on the fall ballot. There may be no clear majority following the elections, so the important eight-vote threshold could be decided by the next governor’s appointments.

“I do want to continue the work we started,” White said.

All of the other major secretaries and department heads are hired and fired by the governor. If history is any indication, the next governor’s transition team will likely be divided into committees to oversee the process, from health care to economic development, with members appointed from different areas of the state and various public and private sectors.

Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield said he has communicated in some shape or form with most of the gubernatorial field already and hopes to be a part of that process.

“I would be willing to continue serving if the conditions are right,” he said.

Economic Development Secretary Steven Grissom, who replaced Moret in the spring, said aside from those who may want to remain in their positions, it’s important for him to be ready to explain to the next governor what his department has accomplished and what it has planned for the future.

“It’s just too early to tell what the LED management team might look like under a new administration,” Grissom said. “We would expect a new administration to look at the longterm planning at the department and make adjustments as it deems appropriate.”

Many different factors will go into deciding the next cabinet. There may political factors swaying one or two positions, due to jobs promised to donors or key supporters. There could also be a regional preference for a candidate who owes his win to a metro area. Which all feeds into an intense transition process already fraught with politics.

The decisions made during those crazed weeks arguably have more to do with initial successes than anything else the campaign will oversee. It’s a pressure-cooker of a timeframe that will grab the attention of the entire state — and cause sleepless nights for those involved.

“It was really something to be a part of and something that I never want to do ever again,” Teepell said with a laugh. “One and done. That was enough for me.”

Paydays On The Line

The morning after voters decide who the next governor will be marks the start of an entirely different campaign known as the transition process. That’s when the next administration begins selecting its key staff, particularly it’s cabinet members. Most of the major candidates have already gone on the record saying they intend to slash salaries across the board during this process. Here’s a look at what official cabinet members were pulling down as of last month, according to data released by state Civil Service.

— Commissioner of administration: $204,401.60

— Environmental quality secretary: $137,196.80

— Inspector general: $132,620.02

— Natural resources secretary: $129,209.60

— Children and family services secretary: $129,995.06

— Veterans affairs secretary: $130,000

— Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority director: $135,000.06

— Homeland security director: $164,999.90

— Workforce commission director: $136,999.98

— Revenue secretary: $249,999.88

— State police superintendent: $134,351.10

— Wildlife and fisheries secretary: $123,614.40

— Economic development secretary: $237,500.12

— Health and hospitals secretary: $236,000.96

— Public safety and corrections secretary: $136,718.92

— Transportation and development secretary: $169,999.96

For more Louisiana political news, visit or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.