Who Will Fill the Bill in 206?



– 206 in the title is a reference to Room 206 of the Indiana State House (the Governor’s Office)

Gubernatorial chief of staff and long-time advisor Bill Smith will be departing the Pence Administration May 9 to form a public affairs and strategic communications firm – which is anticipated to work with the Governor’s campaign and other clients.
Smith has served as chief of staff in the Pence congressional office (after serving as chief of staff to then-U.S. rep. Dan Burton (R), where his tenure in that office began more than 30 years ago) and as senior advisor for the 2012 Pence gubernatorial campaign, over-seeing all activities . . . and while he won’t be the management equivalent of the much-maligned “helicopter parent,” you (and the Guv) should be assured that he won’t be more than a touch of the speed dial (he’s not a text-message guy) awayNo one in the Governor’s Office has as lengthy a relationship with the principal as Smith, and while some have a long political or policy tie to the Governor, no one combines both like Smith, and he will be difficult to replace internally simply because there is a strong bond between Smith, the Governor and the First Lady built on 15 years of trust and comfort that no one can immediately replicate.

Smith as chief of staff has been effective at communicating standards to agency heads and finding the right people for the posts, and at quietly communicating the need for change or quickly and quietly moving around people who didn’t prove to be good fits for certain roles.  The Pence Administration has not needed a “hatchet man” as some past administrations have had in the Governor’s Office because he’s largely handled the role that some recent chiefs of staff have chosen to delegate, and how that will work going forward will be interesting to watch, particularly as the Pence Administration starts to accumulate a reputation for positive management largely devoid of the social policy override that many had expected to dominate his administration . . . and recall that expectations for this governor as a manager were mighty low, given that he hadn’t managed much more than a congressional office in his professional life.

And you should not underestimate the importance of the strong rapport that Smith has with the state’s social conservative network.  While other Pence aides may enjoy the same degree of credibility with this faction as Smith (the founding director of the Indiana Family Institute), they can’t claim the same credibility with the establishment Republicans, legislative leadership, the congressional delegation, and even Democrats – who have had no complaints with how Smith has handled his duties and arranged for interaction between them and the Governor.

So Smith leaves some big shoes to fill with his decision to cut his daily three-hour round-trip to the State House down to just one day in downtown Indianapolis (his new operation will be house at 101 West Ohio).  And there has been no decision made on Smith’s replacement; there is no heir apparent (despite all sorts of other uniformed speculation); the Governor has not even decided whether the new chief of staff will come from inside the office (or state or federal government), the political world, or business; and the only certainty is that the Guv understand there is a short timeline for the decision, which Smith will help him facilitate.

The only certainty is that whoever becomes the next top staffer will have to adhere to the precepts that the Governor has laid down for all of his staffers.  They must possess integrity, have a servant’s heart, have respect in the chain of command, and have some fun in their jobs as they interact with colleagues.

But the key element for the Governor in selecting the new chief of staff will be the level of trust he possesses in the individual, and this is not a position – in this administration, anyway – for which you can see someone chosen who does not have a deep pre-existing working relationship with the principal.

–  Indiana Legislative Insight (reproduction permission approved by publisher)