Election 2015: CIO futures hang in the balance

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As voters in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi head to the polls this month to select their next governors, the fate of the politically appointed chief information officers in those states hangs in the balance.

Regardless of which candidate takes the governor’s seat in Kentucky and Louisiana, where no incumbent is running, chances are good that there will be a C-suite change, Doug Robinson, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ executive director, told StateScoop. That’s particularly true if voters opt for a governor from a different political party from the predecessor: After the 2014 election, only two chief information officers remained on board after a party switch in the executive office — in Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands, he said.

“You know the game going in,” Robinson said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as political, I would simply characterize it as you have a new governor and they want their own team. It is rare for governors to retain a CIO, particularly rare if the party is different.”

Here’s a look at the three races:

Kentucky candidates in a dead heat

In Kentucky, perhaps the most hotly contested gubernatorial election this year, Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway faces Republican Matt Bevin, a businessman and 2014 U.S. Senate candidate, on Tuesday. The most recent poll, from GOP-leaning polling firm Vox Populi, puts the Conway and Bevin neck and neck, with independent candidate Drew Curtis grabbing 6 percent of the vote. RealClearPolitics.com, however, in an aggregate of several polls, puts Conway up by 3 percentage points over Bevin’s 41.3 percent of the vote and Curtis’ 6.3 percent of the vote.

Even if Conway takes Kentucky’s top job, state CIO James Fowler, who was appointed by current Gov. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in 2013, could be out of work once the new administration takes over. 

In his role, Fowler told StateScoop earlier this year he has been working to improve communications with heads of other agencies, move toward providing digital services and roll out reliable broadband across the state. Robinson said NASCIO has not weighed in on how to promote continuity with tech initiatives when a new administration takes over, but he said that new CIOs could use his organization as a resource.

None of the Kentucky gubernatorial campaigns responded to StateScoop’s request for comment on their plans for the CIO slot.

Louisiana’s runoff election

Further south in Louisiana, Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter are vying for the governor’s seat in the Nov. 21 runoff election. In the Oct. 24 primary vote, Edwards won nearly 40 percent and Vitter finished second with 23 percent, according to analysis on Ballotpedia. In a poll out Tuesday from WVLA/JMC Analytics, Edwards leads Vitter by nearly 20 points going into the Nov. 21 runoff. The winner of the contest would replace term-limited Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also running for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. 

Even if Vitter is elected, there’s no guarantee the state’s incumbent CIO Richard “Dickie” Howze would remain in his post. Both of Louisiana’s gubernatorial campaigns also declined StateScoop’s request for comment on their plans for the state CIO.

Mississippi governor up for re-election

The only relatively sure race in the 2015 gubernatorial cycle is in Mississippi. Incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant is up for re-election against Democrat Robert Gray — a truck driver in the state who defeated his Democratic opponents with nearly 51 percent of the vote in the primary earlier this year.  

Assuming Bryant retains his seat as Mississippi’s governor, it’s a safe bet that he will keep current CIO Craig Orgeron on board to lead state operations with IT. Orgeron, one of the longest-serving state CIOs still in office, received the meritorious service award from NASCIO earlier this year. In Mississippi, the state CIO does not report directly to the governor, but instead a board of governor-appointed IT oversight advisers. This arrangement, Robinson said, has led to Mississippi having some of the longest-serving state CIOs in the community.

Contact the reporter who wrote this story at Jake.Williams@StateScoop.com, or follow him on Twitter at @JakeWilliamsDC

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Bobby Jindal, Craig Orgeron​, David Vitter, Dickie Howze, Doug Robinson, Innovation, Jack Conway, James Fowler, John Bel Edwards, Kentucky, Louisiana, Matt Bevin, Mississippi, National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Phil Bryant, Robert Gray, State & Local News, States, Steve Beshear, workforce
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