In absence of unusual talent

Former Indiana Governor and current President of Purdue University Mitch Daniels wrote a fantastic letter that was published in the Indianapolis Star this week. It was strategically penned just before Tuesday’s election and it was addressed to the two major party candidates for governor here in the Hoosier state.

http://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/2016/11/11/mitch-daniels-advice-new-governor/93592972/

The letter took the tone of fatherly advice, with a welcome and much needed absence of partisanship at an obviously crucial time. The topic: the keys to effective government management.

I am a graduate of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I spent my first thirteen years after college working for the State of Indiana. Public management is a passion of mine that will stay with me for the rest of my days. This passion, and Governor Daniels’ unrivaled success at it during his time in office, is what makes me a fan of his. When he talks about it, I listen. When he writes about it, I read.

His letter this week was an 800 word user manual that I hope will be read and reread by anyone interested in government for years to come.

Sadly, I know it won’t be.

On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump made a change to his transition team. He elevated Vice President-elect Mike Pence to lead his transition team, taking over for embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. This change took place a little more than 48 hours into the transition.

Abrupt decisions will likely be the norm of the early Trump administration as our new president learns for the first time the major differences between campaigning and governing. This is not a criticism yet, it is just something Americans should expect.

However, what is lost on most of the country at this point is a weakness of the new administration that was not discussed at all this summer, and we did not even get through the honeymoon period before it slaps us in the face. That weakness is simple: Pence is not a skilled public manager. Not at all. And it is well documented.

Before any conservative fans of his take out after me for what one local radio personality described as my “unbridled Pence hate,” I want to be clear. I am not complaining about ideology here. I am not a whiny protestor of the Electoral College and the awkward result our process produces from time to time. This is not a column that should even provoke much disagreement, since so many Republicans agree with me on it.

Management is just not Pence’s skill set.

I openly and publicly congratulated him on the job he did on the campaign trail. He had a near impossible task and he was a steady source of calmness behind an erratic and often self destructive candidate. He showed America what he can do when he is forced to explain the unexplainable. He is good at that. And Trump will desperately and predictably need that particular skill of Pence’s throughout his term.

I think back to the first half of 2013. Pence did not engage in the first legislative session of his governorship until it was half over. I remember it vividly as the ominous first sign of things to come. Many others remember it similarly. It was an odd approach that became his “style” for the next three years. It led to damaging and unnecessary conflict. The slowness of the pre-Daniels era returned to government almost immediately, and a cautious and timid approach to virtually everything took hold. What appeared to be an off balance transition became the personality of an administration that just was not skilled at managing processes to connect with his trademark ideology.

His track record for identifying and securing people to help him run state government is a sore spot among many Republicans. The people of Indiana should expect sweeping personnel changes in 2017 by our new governor who is not only of the same party, but of the same administration. It will be an odd dynamic that will relieve many, while simultaneously identifying mistakes of the predecessor.

These things would not be all that troubling in and of themselves. Not every politician is skilled at management. It is when our new president, who was victorious as a result of his skill in “brand promotion” immediately turns to his running mate who is largely only skilled at “communications,” that it becomes worrisome.

The Trump/Pence team needs Mitch Daniels, or someone like him, right now. They need him more than Governor-elect Eric Holcomb does. Daniels trained Holcomb and his transition team shows it.

Trump is about to find out the hard way how difficult governing truly is. He is showing how ill-prepared he is for it when charging Pence with leading that comeuppance.

In Daniels’ letter this week he talks about the value of finding “unusual talent” when assembling leaders within an administration. He was exceptional at doing that. These first moves and short lists of folks being bantered about for leadership roles by our new president show nothing innovative or comforting to a populace who desperately needs it right now.

I am confident that Pence has Daniels’ cell phone number. I hope he uses it soon.