Starting with Biden’s White House staff, what a change from what we have witnessed in the last four years! These folks, in many cases, have been there before with success and will be operating smoothly right at the start. As the Biden-Harris team continues to announce cabinet and top leadership posts, the high quality continues, and although some Republican Senators are already targeting some for serious scrutiny, as is normal, there is hope that this process moves quickly given the existing voids of leadership and the incredible problems we have.
As this transition goes by day-by-day, I can’t help but reflect on the two new Presidential Administrations that I had some experience with and how those transfers of power worked out.
Jimmy Carter campaigned early in Kansas, and I had a chance to get acquainted with him. Over time, as Governor, I connected with his staff when I was very active with the National Governors Association. Carter brought with him to Washington many key staff he had as Governor. The group, often referred to as his "Georgia Mafia," had very limited Washington experience, so problems were common.
Six of the eight years I was Governor, Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Because of our close proximity and the Governors Association, we got very well acquainted. As it became evident that sometime soon he would run for President, I remember telling him more than once to please remember the lesson we both learned from Carter about having experienced folks on your White House staff. Clinton’s first Chief of Staff was a wonderful person with talent that shined in Arkansas but knew nothing about running the White House.
In sharp contrast to these two administrations, Biden has huge advantages. First, there is no Delaware Mafia for Biden, because almost all his experience has been centered in the Nation's Capital. From decades of time in the United States Senate and the eight years as Vice President, he had time to observe and get acquainted with much of the talent his team would need. Biden’s national experience also gave him a clear understanding of the skills needed to successfully lead in this time of huge challenges and pressure.
I think of my own experience setting up an administration and how I ended up with such a great team: Pat Hurley, John Kemp, Barbara Sabol, Joe Harkins, Mike Lennen, Bob Harder, Harley Duncan, and many others including a fantastic staff who were exceptionally talented, hard working, and went on to huge success in government and private business. How did this happen? All I know for sure is I always knew I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, so to succeed, I had to go for the very best. And it is clear now that President Elect Joe Biden is going with folks he knows have the competence and experience to deliver.
He continues to pick knowledgeable public servants that he knows he can listen to and trust when important decisions come to his desk. I know from experience that this style of leadership can lead to fantastic results that serve the people well.