Let's play a game of hypothetical recall. If Tom Barrett beats Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 election, then what?
Under "normal" circumstances, a governor-elect has two months between the November election and inauguration day to take office. If Barrett wins June 5, he'll move in after a maximum of 18 days, the time allotted for the state Government Accountability Board to certify results from special elections, says GAB spokesman Reid Magney.
That's not much time to tackle the "mighty challenge" of hiring a new staff and making a raft of key political appointments, says Aaron Olver, a former Department of Commerce secretary who served on Gov. Jim Doyle's transition teams in 2002 and 2006.
"There's a lot of work that goes into taking office," says Olver, now Madison's director of economic development. "Becoming governor is a huge chore."
In addition to hiring about 40 employees for the governor's office - ranging from chief of staff to speechwriters to policy directors - a governor also has to name cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and executive assistants for 15 state agencies and offices. Governors also have a say in hiring division heads, communications directors and legislative liaisons - a list that numbers well over 100. And across a broader spectrum, Wisconsin's governor has the power to appoint (PDF) more than 1,000 people to various councils and boards.
Most of these appointments don't happen immediately under any governor. And in theory, Barrett could take "as long as he wants," says University of Wisconsin-Madison's Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus of public affairs and political science. But for the high-profile jobs, including cabinet chiefs, deputies and communications staff, it would behoove Barrett to get his people in place quickly, Dresang adds.
"There's going to be a new message, a new direction in policy," he says.
Fair or not, Walker's appointees are "tainted" by association with the polarizing governor. "You've got to have trust in your communications directors, in your cabinet officers," Dresang says. "Quite frankly, if I were elected, I'd probably terminate a lot of people even before I appointed replacements."
Adding to the mix is an often-overlooked provision of Act 10 - the 2011 law signed by Walker that stripped collective bargaining rights from most state public workers - that allowed the governor to replace an additional 37 civil servants in key state agency positions with political appointees.
With so much to do in so little time, two factors would work in Barrett's favor, Olver says. Most new governors must present a two-year budget plan just after taking office, but the 2011-13 budget is in midstream. Also, Barrett has done this before, albeit on a smaller scale, when he became Milwaukee's mayor in 2004.
"In a lot of ways, it's going to be a lot more like a mayoral transition," Olver says.
Walker didn't announce his cabinet until late December 2010, nearly eight weeks after winning the election on Nov. 2. Doyle in 2002 wrapped up the process about a week quicker.
Were Barrett to prevail next month, Olver imagines he would work with "some kind of skeletal staff" and perhaps hang on to some of Walker's people in the short term. It could take months to get all his appointments in place. And even then, governors "are constantly in hiring mode" due to turnover and an ongoing search for new talent, Olver adds.
But the transition period can be critical for defining the direction of a governor's term.
"The key will be to get a nucleus of good people who know what they're doing in there quickly," Olver says.
So, what are Barrett's plans if he wins June 5? Hard to say. Calls to his campaign asking whether a transition team was in place were not returned. That's not a surprise, says Olver: "The rule of thumb is that if you have a transition team [before an election], you never admit you have a transition team."