Pray your governor is not a three-headed hydra. We require heroes guiding all fifty states.
“HEROES VS HYDRAS” SERIES
This fifteen-part series introduces you to the heroic partners you and your community will require to survive and thrive during pandemics and economic disruptions. The articles also provide tips on avoiding the three-headed hydras of apathy, envy and fear, those people in positions of power who are fighting to keep a broken status quo.
Your governor has more impact on your quality of life than the president. These public servants are just like you, but they control a multibillion dollar enterprise called state government and the destiny of millions.
Many years and administrations ago, I had only been working for the state government a few months when we switched governors. I was told by a colleague to get ready for big changes — ones those of us working to improve the lives of kids would not like. I had come from the private sector to my new public sector job, so I already found it baffling that our agency has no real strategic plan, no collective vision with any significant goals attached to measurable results. We had no department or staff meetings where we discussed how we are moving toward shared short- or long-term outcomes. I said to my colleague, “How does it get less data-driven and less result-focused than it already is?” “You’ll see,” said the old timer who had been through three governors.
And what I saw was a collision of incompetence and corruption I thought only existed in TV shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
That was then, this is now…
Over two lattes, one Google search will provide you with some insightful reading material about state governors who make monumental changes that bring efficiency and quality of life to a state. They are true visionary heroes. There are other governors who freeze government and spend days fighting with state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as problems go unsolved.
You can spend days, if not lifetimes, reading about the accomplishments of state governors. It’s fascinating reading.
Governors can pass policies and fund programs to create a more equitable state where people get a boost to solve challenges. Or, a governor can dismantle programs, either officially or unofficially through a management process that essentially tells every state worker to stop with the innovation and leave government so we can shrink state services.
A governor is, in many ways, the CEO of a company with anywhere from 200,000 or more full-time employees in California to 30,000 or so in New Mexico. That’s a lot of people to inspire and empower, or to intimidate and treat with disdain in the hopes they seek other work and move elsewhere.
It really comes down to two competing philosophies about the role of government. Do we use it as a system to address health and education disparities and promote problem-solving focused on the quality of life for all? Or, do we think people should fix themselves without any help from anybody, and government just needs to get out of the way?
Even with the governors who believe in helping all families, strategies can range from data-driven and very effective to good-hearted yet ultimately ineffective. You will need more than a few cups of coffee to analyze your own state’s history of governors and their accomplishments.
Who’s really the boss of us — and our safety and standard of living?
Despite all the messages we get 24/7 from the time we’re old enough to salute a flag, it’s our state governor, not our nation’s president, who controls many vital services that impact the quality of our lives every day, especially in times of crisis. This is the case today as we face at least seven colliding crises during the pandemic and economic free fall.
Our public health, emergency preparedness, law enforcement, higher education, quality of roads and infrastructure, internet access, legal system, and economic development can be greatly enhanced or diminished by a governor who controls every major state agency.
Each of our fifty states are at very different places, with different leaders and their philosophies of governing. As we have stated, some governors are committed to improving the lives of all children, students, parents, grandparents — all residents — through state programs, while others are quite satisfied to let the taxpayers who pay to run government, make what they can of their lives with as little governmental support as the federal government and public opinion will allow. This means, we are all much safer with a state leader who believes in making health and safety the number one priority, harnessing the power of a multi-billion dollar entity.
Governors wield incredible power, even if they don’t have the majority of state legislators on their side. It’s hard for folks who have not worked for state government to understand, but just one person, the governor, can have a chilling effect on every single state employee. And, in some states, state government is one of the biggest employers.
Within weeks of a new governor being elected and sworn in, employees will see flex time come or go, professional development supported or banned, innovations funded or slashed and burned. Budgets for state office drinking water and office supplies can appear or disappear. Finally, technology can be a top priority, or state agencies will be run as though the Internet doesn’t really exist. Needless to say, your governor matters a lot. In a global pandemic, you really don’t want to be at the mercy of a three-headed hydra on the top floor of the state capital building.
How do you get to the governor’s people and what do you do then?
Imagine you had a bold proposal to develop a data-driven countywide system that would ensure all residents had access to ten vital services for surviving and thriving, including timely medical care. Now imagine you worked tirelessly to get the complete buy-in of those local leaders of organizations providing health care, education, child care, food and housing security along with transportation. You even have the full support of your mayor, county sheriff and local university president. All you need is the support of the governor’s office to secure funding and ensure alignment between state, county and city services.
We don’t wish to simplify what can be a very complicated if not near impossible task. Governors, like CEOs of national companies, are busy with almost every waking hour scheduled. You will first be going through the governor’s “people” to get an appointment or more realistically, an opportunity to share in a document what it is you need to see the governor for. Depending on the issue, you most likely will be directed by staff to a state department like public education or public health. And, this makes sense as these state departments are better set up to be more accessible. Of course for your bold cross-sector plan, you need buy-in from all the major cabinet level secretaries, including economic and workforce development, early childhood learning, higher education and health and human services.
If you have decided that you must, absolutely must, get to the governor, we applaud your spirit. We suggest you draft a one-page document detailing why you need to meet. This detailed proposal is your three-minute elevator pitch. That’s the why of your meeting. If your goal is to get buy in for your groundbreaking public-private sector partnership plan to ensure vital services on the governor’s radar, we fully support that. If you represent a coalition of voters, your odds of getting an audience with one of the governor’s people is better. From our experience, getting to your governor or lieutenant governor’s staff (many of whom could become powerful advocates for you and your mission) is all about the time-consuming process of building relationships with your local state lawmakers who have access to the governor and her or his people. Think of that old saying about “six degrees of separation” which means that you know a work colleague who has a boss who knows a county commissioner who knows a judge who is a cousin of the governor’s chief of staff‘s babysitter.
Engaging with the folks the governor put in charge of your state
Imagine your governor as President of the Republic, appointing 30+ cabinet secretaries to run multimillion dollar agencies. Depending on which state you live in, these appointments are filled by people with a strong professional background in the sector they work in, committed to serving the state’s population with efficiency and a result-focused approach. Or, the opposite, in some states they are hired to essentially dismantle the department and freeze as much department activity as the Feds and public will allow.
When things run as a family-friendly and crisis-prepared state, your state will form something like a “Children’s Cabinet,” run by a director whose job it is to ensure that all the cabinet-level secretaries share the governor’s vision and goals, and commit to a coordinated approach to serving families and children. This means the director of child welfare shares with the director of public health the plans for working in each county to address health disparities that lead to child abuse and neglect. That’s in our perfect world. Each state will be a bit different. (Full disclosure: I live in a state with a well-established Children’s Cabinet and a very wise governor with experience in both public health and how congress works. I sure hope you do, too.)
As you read headlines like “economic collapse inevitable” or “food pantries running out of food” or “clinics lacking gloves” — these are problems that smart state leaders can take command of, convening the state’s experts in each sector to create solutions that rely on a state’s resources, not some three-headed hydras in Washington, DC.
In our perfect world, you identify ten people in your county, each one a committed advocate in one of the ten surviving and thriving sectors. You create a one-page executive summary for your proposal (aka Brilliant Vision/Project) that serves as your calling card to introduce you and your county team to the governor’s people. You also have in hand a full proposal to illustrate your collective vision of creating a seamless county network of services. You outline how you will engage partners in the public and private sector, and how you will use technology to make your county project all very efficient and transparent — sharing data, strategies, outcomes and evaluation.
Wait, is this even possible?
You ask, “How might I, a person without any connections to anybody in elected office on any level, attempt what you say?”
Then I say, “We are living in what will one day be called ‘The Great Reset.’”
This is a time when anything is possible and each of us has the power to create the new relationships that lead to a collective vision that leads to measurable and meaningful change. If you are looking for someone with a strong sense of social justice, with the inner resources to pitch a bold idea to the governor’s people, you need only look in the mirror.
The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.
Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Any questions? The future (and content for your bold proposal to the governor’s people) awaits: www.tenvitalservices.org