Much has been made of Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe’s lack of experience managing the affairs of government. In a recent interview, Mr. McAuliffe acknowledged the skepticism surrounding his ability to govern as well as the reasons why he’ll be an effective governor.
While it’s true that experience is helpful in just about any occupation that comes to mind, Terry McAuliffe will have a number of advisers and cabinet officials that will assist the former Democratic Party fundraiser while he settles in to his new role as governor.
But all of the talk about government experience and its perceived correlation to governing effectiveness has left out the idea that a lack of governing experience may be more of an advantage than a disadvantage. Mr. McAuliffe may not have the personal relationships, the political know-how, or the confidence of more experienced Virginia politicians, but McAuliffe also doesn’t have the personal baggage or entrenched perceptions based upon prior experiences that could inhibit more experienced individuals from being effective governors. In other words, McAuliffe’s ‘blank slate’ could be an opportunity to take on old policy challenges from a new, ‘outsiders’, perspective.
As with any institution, there are rules and norms that members abide by explicitly or implicitly, a culture that every member affirms and reaffirms through their thoughts or behaviors. Virginia government is no different in this respect; each branch of Virginia’s government has its own culture, a set of ideas and beliefs that members either knowingly or unknowingly view the world with.
While an institutional culture may be the catalyst for creativity and innovative problem-solving, government is in essence a conservative institution bent towards maintaining the status quo until the status quo becomes unsustainable. Terry McAuliffe has had little involvement with this institution as a member of Virginia’s government.
McAuliffe represents a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes that could be just what the commonwealth needs to overcome many of the issues that have confounded previous governors such as transportation, energy, women’s rights, political party relations, and so on. There are no easy solutions, of course, but perhaps McAuliffe’s governing inexperience could turn out to be his greatest asset.