The next two months of transition and the first few months in the governor's office may be the most crucial time of Joan Finney's four-year term.
During this time, she will have to decide what appointed officials she will keep in their current jobs and who she will appoint for her key staff positions. Those appointments and decisions will set the tone for Finney's administration.
Gov.-elect Finney faces some difficult circumstances as she enters office. She will land squarely in the middle of a property tax debacle that was a key element in the political defeats this year of both of her predecessors, former Gov. John Carlin and Gov. Mike Hayden. The same angry taxpayers who voted against Hayden are now waiting to see what Finney will do, and their patience isn't likely to last too long.
Finney also must deal with a split Legislature Republicans controlling the Senate, and Democrats narrowly running the House. Policy differences between the new governor and the probable new House speaker, Democrat Marvin Barkis, may also present some roadblocks for potential legislation.
And finally, Finney doesn't carry a huge mandate from the voters into office. She won the election, but only with 49 percent of the vote. Not even a simple majority of Kansans were convinced that she was the best candidate for governor.
The ability of Finney's staff to set policy and deal with the Legislature will be crucial to her success as a governor. Finney may prove to be an excellent governor on her own merits, but even if she is a strong leader, she can be helped immensely if she surrounds herself with effective people, who have good ideas.
That is why Finney's early appointments will be so crucial to her administration. She should be careful to pick people who have strengths where she has weaknesses, people who can give her good advice and can help her work effectively with the Legislature. Her selection of Pat Hurley, an experienced government adviser and lobbyist, as her transition manager sets a good example. Hurley should be able to help Finney evaluate her position and make good appointments.
Many government leaders have been made or broken by the abilities of their staffs. Good leaders have been brought down; and mediocre leaders have been highly successful.
Voters are not likely to give Finney a long honeymoon. One of the best ways she can prepare herself to sit in the governor's office is to pick the best possible people to help her do the job.