BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The task is daunting: Piece together an administration to run Louisiana, pick the people who will lead a dozen state departments and devise an agenda for a state awash in financial problems. And do it all in fewer than 50 days.
That's how much time Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards has between winning his election and taking office Jan. 11.
The transition period from election victory to governing may be the most high-intensity, yet least understood part of an administration, when a team and its policies are created largely from scratch.
"I did not spend time before (polls closed) on Nov. 21 measuring drapes. I was running a campaign the entire time. We didn't get a head start on the transition, but we're catching up in a hurry," Edwards said Tuesday.
People who worked on transitions for the last three Louisiana governors tell similar stories of chaos, with a flood of information inundating a small band of volunteers who help make the weighty decisions that can determine the course of the state for the next four years.
"It's like a multi-dimensional chess game and you've got to play all levels at the same time," said Terry Ryder, a lawyer who worked on the 1995 transition of Republican former Gov. Mike Foster.
Stephen Waguespack, who was involved in the 2007 transition of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, said: "There's no rule book. There's no team that comes in."
"On election night, it feels like a finish line. It feels like you've accomplished something. And early the next morning, you realize you haven't really started," said Waguespack, now president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
LSU provides a floor of space in one of its campus buildings. But the governor-elect and his team must rent furniture, get computers and buy office supplies.
"There's going to be a lot of people showing up at the transition office. Somebody's got to greet them, give them a form. But somebody's got to create the form first," Ryder said.
The university bills the governor's transition team for whatever is rented or bought from LSU. To pay those costs plus the expenses of a swearing-in ceremony and inaugural events, someone must fundraise for the transition.
The governor-elect's transition team estimates it needs between $2 million and $3 million to pay for everything before taking office, said Edwards spokeswoman Mary-Patricia Wray.
Since his Nov. 21 victory, Edwards has named his chief of staff, state Sen. Ben Nevers of Bogalusa, and a transition team of six others with an extensive history in state politics, local government and business.
Wray said eight committees are convening privately to recommend cabinet agency chiefs and work on policy plans. Edwards said those committees held their first meetings Tuesday.
Tyron Picard, a lobbyist who worked as deputy chairman of Democratic former Gov. Kathleen Blanco's transition team, said thousands of resumes pour into the transition office from people seeking everything from secretary positions to spots on boards and commissions.
Blanco received nearly 300 applications for the health secretary job alone, he said.
"As more and more people are hired and decisions are made, it's almost this migration of duties, whereas in the first two weeks almost 100 percent of things are being done by the volunteers that were assembled on election night," Picard said.
The burgeoning Edwards administration also must begin developing a proposal for the 2016-17 state budget, which the governor's Division of Administration must deliver to lawmakers by mid-February.
The governor-elect will be devising the plans for a special legislative session expected in February to rewrite state tax laws and financial policy in an effort to stop the perpetual cycles of budget shortfalls. He's also meeting with lawmakers to work on ideas for the special session and to try to influence decisions on legislative leadership positions.
People involved in past transitions talk of endless work with few days off. Ryder described having "Thanksgiving dropped off in a bag." Waguespack missed LSU's win in the national championship game that year, and gave his ticket to his brother-in-law.
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Posted on Wed, December 2, 2015
by MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press