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Inslee takes early step to hand off power to a new governor

Former Gov. Christine Gregoire and Gov. Jay Inslee meet before Inslee’s inaugural speech in 2013.
Courtesy of Washington State Archives
Former Gov. Christine Gregoire and Gov. Jay Inslee meet before Inslee’s inaugural speech in 2013.

Come January 2025, a transition of power will occur for the first time in more than a decade in the Washington state governor’s office.

The work to ensure the shift goes smoothly after a new governor is elected next year will begin long before the swearing-in ceremony.

“Think of it like a small independent agency,” said Kelly Wicker, Gov. Jay Inslee’s deputy chief of staff. “There’s the winding down of the current administration and the coming in of a new administration.”

Inslee is not running for a fourth four-year term in 2024.

Transitioning from one governor to the next requires about half a year and a sizable chunk of money.

To help cover the expense, there’s $2,763,000 in the governor’s proposed budget for the transition.

That money will go toward hiring temporary assistants, archiving records, building a new website, renting office space for the transition and moving the governor-elect and family into the governor’s mansion in Olympia.

The funding also covers the cost of “buyouts” for staff planning to leave with Inslee. When those employees depart, the state must pay them for their unused vacation time and a portion of their sick leave.

Some work, like archiving public records and determining buyout packages, will begin before a new governor is decided. After the election, things happen fast.

“It’s a sprint,” said Jaime Smith, communications director for Inslee, who helped work on his transition in 2013. “A month and a half, especially during the holidays, goes really, really fast.”

High turnover, new technology and a decade of price increases mean the bill for this transition will be significantly higher than when Inslee came into office in 2013. At the time, the governor’s transition office had just under $135,000 to work with, but Smith said that number does not account for things like buyouts or moving costs, so the true total was likely higher.

Because Inslee served three terms, his transition out of office may take a bit more heavy lifting than previous transitions. His office estimates there will be about a 70% turnover rate once Inslee’s tenure is up. That’s compared to around 35% when he came into office, according to the governor’s office funding request.

And for staff who choose to stay on for another administration, their jobs may look different, said Wicker, who’s worked for Inslee and former Govs. Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire.

“It’s like changing jobs,” she said. “You’re working for someone else who may have different priorities and a different style.”

Inslee’s team will reach out to gubernatorial campaigns ahead of next November’s general election to start the transition process.

One of the most important pieces to set up is security from State Patrol on election night, should a winner be called that day.

Once a new governor is decided, Inslee’s team will work with staff of the governor-elect to get them up to speed. Both teams will work out of a newly rented office.

The new administration will have to decide how they want to run their office, Wicker said. That includes everything from appointing more than 50 agency heads and hiring for staff who leave to determining legislative and budget priorities.

It also includes small details, like how staff should answer phones on the first day of the new administration, Wicker said.

“One of the most important things is the continuity of government and ensuring it is a smooth transition,” Wicker said. “But it can be really daunting when you think of the task before you.”

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.