Constitution Daily

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Tears and baseballs through flat screens: A tale of government transition

February 10, 2011 by Steve Crawford


Every eight years, for 54 years, the governorship of Pennsylvania has switched between Democrats and Republicans. The “eight-year cycle,” has spanned 14 gubernatorial elections. Steve Crawford recently ended a 25 year career in public service, having held top level positions in the administrations of Governor's Casey, Rendell and the legislature. Arguably, he held the two toughest jobs in state government: Secretary for Legislative Affairs and Chief of Staff to the Governor. The fact that he did so for all eight years is unprecedented. He will soon join SR Wojdak Associates, a Pennsylvania government relations firm, as the Managing Vice President. In the following piece, he describes in real and understandable terms the reality of constitutional transition from one Government to the next from a psychological, policy and personal perspective. - Hugh Allen, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Constitution Center

I joined the Rendell Administration on day one as the Secretary for Legislative Affairs, and I turned out the lights as the Chief of Staff.  So, I’ve experienced both ends of a transition from one governor to another. The Pennsylvania Constitution says little about how that is to occur. It defines the length of term and establishes the day on which a new governor shall be sworn in. Beyond that, you’re on your own.  For me it was a 3P experience, to borrow a popular infrastructure term:  psychology, policy and power.

Steve Crawford

The 3 P's of government transition

Psychologically, the transition started long before the Fall election. It began with the first campaign ad that called us incompetent, wasteful, or worse.  I knew by the spring of 2010 that I’d better get used to the idea of two guys spending millions of dollars to tell the voters how they could govern cheaper and easier.  2010 was a tough year to be an incumbent and Tom Corbett and Dan Onorato were unloading on all things Harrisburg. I’m a big boy and I know the game; still, I’m proud of the fact that I survived the sometimes-hypocritical rhetoric of the campaign without throwing the baseball I kept on my desk through my office flat screen.

On policy: you know that once elected , the new governor, as wise as he is or professes to be, probably doesn’t have a clue what he got himself into. Part of me wanted to say, “OK, pal, you’ve got all the answers so YOU figure it out.”  But you can’t because you care too much about the people of the Commonwealth.

Governor Rendell insisted that every agency prepare a comprehensive briefing book for Governor-elect Corbett. About a dozen telephone book-sized documents were handed over to the Corbett transition directors; they were apolitical and atypical of what most outgoing administrations do and they were, in many ways, a reflection of ‘Ed Rendell the policy wonk.’  Rendell is damn smart and was always seeking the most accurate and comprehensive information. He insisted on the same for his successor.

Rendell is damn smart and was always seeking the most accurate and comprehensive information. He insisted on the same for his successor.”

Power. That transition begins the day after your second midterm election. Columnists call you a lame duck, you have to be more precise in your leverage points, your opponents are emboldened and, by then, your friends are tired of carrying your water.

Pennsylvanians have never elected a governor of the same party three times in a row, so Pennsylvania’s power transfers are more stark. I had to respectfully remind Governor-elect Corbett’s people that the Constitution allows for one governor at a time and until noon on January 18, 2011, Ed Rendell was that Governor.  I found myself in the role of placement officer and grief counselor, feeling like the CEO of a Hospice and a birthing center at the same time.

I was in the Governor’s Office every day for all eight years.There were days that I thought would never end, but at the end of it all I wondered where the time went.  On Friday, January 14, the Governor’s Office staff celebrated with Judge Midge Rendell, took pictures with the Governor, and shared some laughs and tears.enjoyed a dab of Knob Creek with close colleagues. On Monday the 17th, I packed up and gave a surprise visitor, Governor -elect Corbett, a tour of his new office.  On Tuesday the 18th, I came to work early, wrote a few notes and a letter of resignation.

Shortly before noon on the final day I received a visit from my wife, the one person who shared all that I had gone through and what this meant to me. Behind closed doors, it was my turn for a few proud, sad, and melancholy tears. I walked the Rendells down to the inaugural dais, went back to the office, turned out the lights and left the building.


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