State CIOs and about 900 of their closest vendor friends gathered once again for the National Association of State CIO’s (NASCIO) 53rd annual fall conference October 9-12 in Louisville, Ky. – with hints of both autumn and possibly employment changes in the air.

The good news – this year’s attendance of member CIOs from 50 states and U.S. territories marks a new attendance record, according to Maryland CIO and outgoing NASCIO President Mike Leahy.

The vibe – a good number of those state tech leaders may be on pins and needles due to the quadrennial nature of this year’s event – it just so happens to correspond with 36 state gubernatorial elections just one month from now.

As an indication of the potential impact of these quadrennial gubernatorial elections, following the 2018 election which had a similar election schedule to 2022, there were 24 new state CIOs by the following year. That adds up to nearly a 50 percent turnover rate.

That state CIO job churn rate seems to grow each year, and not just due only to the election cycle.

State CIOs’ position, responsibility, authority and even their title have changed dramatically over the years. It’s no long considered the domain of data canter managers like it was up until the early 1990s. In fact, when I was appointed by Governor Bill Weld as Massachusetts’ first CIO in 1993, I was arguably the first in the country to have that title in state government. And most of the NASCIO membership, the National Association of State Resource Executives (ugh) – NASIRE at the time – were part of the aforementioned data center management group.

Not anymore. Fast forward 30 years and state IT leadership has evolved to the new CIO governance model throughout the country. And more significantly, each one is now appointed by his/her governor, according to NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson.

Ironically, this change in the state IT leadership function – along with the gubernatorial appointment – have changed the playing field for state CIOs, who along with the new title must also survive the political appointment challenge.

Which brings us full circle back to that darn voting cycle again. This November’s election will again feature 36 gubernatorial matchups just like 2018, and visions of dozens of sitting state CIO’s giving up their posts must send a shiver down the spine of many.

However, these CIO’s chances are in some measure proportionate to those of their boss – the governor – or so they may think. While it’s true that the re-election of your governor improves the chances for your re-appointment, it doesn’t guarantee it.

It also helps when your newly elected governor is in the same political party as your old one, but again, there’s no guarantee. New administrations – or four more years of the old ones – both provide the opportunity for ‘re-invigoration’ of the team, and oftentimes that comes at the expense of a sitting state CIO or two, or more.

That turnover of 24 state CIOs a few years ago did not represent a blood bath of party flips – less than half were of that nature. The remaining dozen or so new CIOs represent the fruits of re-invigoration.

That’s why perspicacious CIOs will be traveling to Louisville this week with more than just a pleasant smile on their face. Instead, they’ll be packin’ – a resume, to be precise.

If their governor loses, or decides not to run, and the seat flips parties, you’re a goner most likely. However, if their governor wins, you have a good chance of sticking around. In the case of a newly elected governor of the same party, the current CIO might stay on, but there’s no guarantee.

CIO – Career is Over – still rings true for many.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.