Open Letter to Gov.-elect Kelly's Staff

This column was published Sunday, January, 13, 2019 in The Manhattan Mercury.


One of the first things I did when I sat where you sit was to mount a one-person crusade to subtly influence the way Kansans perceived the person they had elected. In news releases and anything official, I would capitalize the ‘G’ in ‘governor,’ AP Stylebook be damned.

At high noon tomorrow, the executive branch of Kansas government changes hands. After the Inaugural address, and before you don the formal duds for the Inaugural ball, you’ll settle into your new Statehouse digs. People will return your calls promptly. The Governor’s office is calling.

Your boss’s job is daunting. Governing a state founded amidst massive cultural change that finds itself on the first or second wave of another one, albeit less bloody, fueled by changing demographics and all their accompanying downstream complications.

As much as you admire and respect her today, as Gov. Laura Kelly grows into the job, your admiration and respect will deepen. She has a constituency of 2.9 million souls, you have a constituency of one. Your job is to help her succeed. It’s not a cult of personality, but she’s all that and a bag of chips.

Stay in-state for official gatherings. Shortly after taking office, a Cabinet retreat at an Oklahoma resort owned by my guys’ father-in-law became our first media poopstorm. On the upside, it did spawn the name of the Governor’s staff summer softball team: No Retreat.

Position a couple of colleagues in the House chamber to “spontaneously” start the clapping after the applause lines in the State of the State. If you can swing it, plant a couple of strategically-placed “woots.” Script them. Make certain their voices carry.

It’ll take six or eight months to find a staff rhythm. If you haven’t already, you will soon develop the ability to read the Governor’s mind. This skill, above all others, will be key to your success. You will have 99 problems, but the Governor ain’t one.

Push for more staff meetings at Cedar Crest. It is a lovely home and you’ll enjoy telling your friends you just got back from a high-level meeting there. You could tell them more, but then you’d have to kill them. BTW, it’s the Governor’s residence, not the governor’s mansion.

John Steuart Curry’s  Tragic Prelude  graces the wall just outside the Kansas Governor’s office.

John Steuart Curry’s Tragic Prelude graces the wall just outside the Kansas Governor’s office.

While everything you do will be tinged with politics, resist the temptation to push the envelope on partisanship. You’re Democrats in a Republican state. You will find the sweet spot between politics and policy.

When traveling to western Kansas, go to places besides Dodge, Garden and Hays. Pay purposeful attention to the 96 counties you did not carry.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. You serve at the pleasure of the Governor. When he was Governor, Bob Bennett was known to fire staffers by sending little notes which read, “you no longer please me.”

Revel in the ceremonial trappings. You’ll soon learn proclamation signings are a pain and they chew up the Governor’s time, but they’re also an efficient way for the Governor to connect with her constituents. Without ever leaving the office.

Be elsewhere when they’re casting about for an Easter Bunny for the Easter Egg Hunt at Cedar Crest.

Bring your family into the uniqueness of what you’re doing. One of my most treasured keepsakes is a photo of my then 9-year old son, sitting wide-eyed behind the Governor’s desk.

If the Adjutant General says it’s an emergency, it is.

You’ll develop a special relationship with the Kansas Highway Patrol. Plainclothes troopers comprise the Governor’s security detail, advance the trips and drive the vehicles. These men and women would take a bullet for the Governor. Seriously.

After leaving office, my guy would joke that he knew he was no longer Governor when he climbed into the passenger seat of the Crown Vic and it didn’t go anywhere.

It will be all too easy to get on the wave and simply ride it for four or eight years. Find a way to get knocked off, spend some time on the beach, admiring the vastness and grandeur of what you’re doing. My office was just down the hall from the Governor’s office, proper. I would hustle by John Steuart Curry’s Tragic Prelude dozens of times a day and not give it a second thought.

I came away from the service you’re about to enter with a fully built-out sense that Kansas will always be home. That I would spend the rest of my life here. That whomever has the courage and fortitude to stand for election and win deserves to have the title of their office capitalized. Today, when I return to the Statehouse and stand before Curry’s mural, I think about my service then and reflect on what it really means to be a Kansan.

The necessity to purposefully recognize the honor and privilege of serving your home state at this level. At this time in history. For these scant few years. For this Governor.

The time will flee, all too quickly.

Take some time to tingle.

Matson served as Communications Director and Press Secretary for Gov. Bill Graves. His column appears every other Sunday in The Mercury.