The jobs of banking supervisors in eight states are hanging by a thread following ousters of Democratic governors.
Six of the supervisors are in jeopardy because they serve at the pleasure of governors who were defeated last month. The other two face expiring terms and may not be reappointed by incoming Republican governors.
The GOP victories have thrown the regulators into limbo just as states are grappling with the onset of interstate branching. If the regulators are indeed dumped, observers say, their replacements will have to master the issues swiftly.
Meanwhile, the current supervisors are anxiously awaiting signals about their fates.
"I don't know where I stand," said Robert LaGrange, director of the New Mexico Financial Institutions Division. "It's still the governor-elect's choice. He can do whatever he wants. I would like to stay on, but we'll see what happens."
The other states affected are Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.
Kenneth R. McCartha, Alabama's superintendent of banks, is taking comfort in the fact that he worked under the incoming Republican governor, Robert James, from 1979 to 1982 when Mr. James was a Democratic governor.
"The odds are good he'll want me to stay on," Mr. McCartha said. "I'm not a politician. I haven't been out campaigning or politicking for anybody. I'm just trying to do a good job as superintendent of banks."
Some of the regulators say there is little use in fretting.
"That's not my call," said Talmadge B. Gilley Jr., Tennessee commissioner of financial institutions. "No use worrying about something you don't have any control over."
Added Belton J. Patty, director of the Idaho Department of Finance: "It doesn't matter to me whether I stay or not. I generally work under the assumption there's going to be a change. Most [supervisors] do."
In November's elections, voters in a total of 11 states ousted Democratic governors in favor of Republicans. But three of those states are unlikely to see changes in bank supervisors anytime soon.
In Oklahoma, for example, Banking Commissioner Mick Thompson was appointed in September 1992 to a four-year term and can only be replaced in 1996 if the Democratic Senate confirms a new appointee.
"It's set up to take some of the politics out of it so that you have some continuity," he said. "You don't have complete turnover every time you change governor."
For the eight states that do face changes in supervisors, the uncertainty arises as Republicans prepare to take over Congress and downsize the federal government.
Any new state banking appointees could find themselves with new powers delegated by a Republican-controlled Congress, just as they're about to wrestle with interstate branching and revisions to the Community Reinvestment and Bank Secrecy acts.
That places the new officials at the forefront of the struggle to redefine the relationship between the federal and state governments.
"The states have a great deal of decisions to make in this new environment of interstate branching," said Ellen Lamb, assistant vice president of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, a Washington-based group that represents state bank regulators.
Under the law, states must choose whether to opt out of the interstate branching provisions, to opt in before June 1997, or to allow the law to take effect on schedule.
They must also decide whether to allow their state-chartered banks the same privileges as national banks.
"While the legislatures in each state are going to have to make those decisions, the state banking supervisor will be charged with implementing whatever the legislatures decide," Ms. Lamb said.
Bankers in states with changes of supervisors will face the task of educating the new officials on major banking issues, Ms. Lamb said.
"The new supervisors are going to have to get up to speed in a hurry. It certainly makes the education process more urgent," she said.
In Florida, the only state with an elected supervisor, a change is certain. Last month, incumbent Gerald Lewis was defeated by Bob Milligan, a retired Marine Corps three-star general with no banking experience.
Mr. Lewis had served for 20 years and bankers knew where he stood on the issues. Some even called him a friend of the industry. Bank trade group officials have been scrambling in recent weeks to establish contacts with Mr. Milligan.
In Tennessee, Mr. Gilley "knows our bankers and our bankers know him and there's a good bit of sentiment out there to keep him in there for the time being," said Bradley L. Barrett, executive vice president of the Tennessee Bankers Association. "I don't think there's any pressure out there for immediate change."
Bankers in some states, however, say they aren't concerned about the possibility of working with a new regulator.
They generally see the supervisor not as an adversary, but as somebody who will work with them to benefit the state's economy.
"I wouldn't think there would be very much change in banking policy, regardless of who becomes banking commissioner," said John Evans Sr., president of $92-million-asset D. L. Evans Bancorp in Burley, Idaho.
"It's in the interest of any governor, regardless of the party, to support the financial institutions any way they can because it's the lifeblood of their state."