Corbett's pick for chief of staff backs out

Gov.-elect Tom Corbett lost Brian Nutt as his chief of staff.
Gov.-elect Tom Corbett lost Brian Nutt as his chief of staff.
Posted: December 23, 2010

HARRISBURG - Even as he was announcing his pick for a top job in his administration, Gov.-elect Tom Corbett on Wednesday also found himself in the awkward position of explaining why another appointee backed out of a job.

Brian Nutt, Corbett's pick for chief of staff, announced that he had changed his mind and would join a political-consulting firm.

Corbett had tapped Nutt, 39, this month to be his right-hand man when he takes office Jan. 18, citing Nutt's long service. Nutt ran Corbett's campaign for governor as well as his campaigns for attorney general. He also served as Corbett's chief of staff in the Attorney General's Office and is currently the chief of staff to Corbett's transition team.

In his announcement, Nutt said he had decided to pursue his passion for politics and campaigns and would become managing partner in the new Harrisburg office of BrabenderCox, a political-consulting firm. The firm created media for Corbett's campaign.

Nutt said he would continue to be Corbett's political adviser and chief strategist.

"I'm not going anywhere. I will just have a different address outside the Capitol," Nutt said.

But the sudden change of heart from a high-level appointee was a bump in the road to inauguration for the incoming governor, who has been criticized for some of his other cabinet choices.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said there was nothing embarrassing about Nutt's decision to forgo the job and pointed out that Nutt would continue to have a close working relationship with the governor-elect.

"I think it's an opportunity that presented itself for Brian and that it is good for him professionally, but will also benefit Tom Corbett," Harley said. "I think that Brian will be able to serve the governor-elect more effectively as a political strategist as opposed to his chief of staff."

As of yesterday, Corbett had not chosen a replacement for Nutt.

Pollster and political analyst G. Terry Madonna said he did not believe Nutt's departure would register with voters or would damage the Corbett team's credibility.

"Most people aren't paying a lot of attention to the process of how the cabinet is being selected," he said. "I look at the final package once it's done. Is it a strong cabinet? That's what people care about."

Whomever Corbett ends up choosing for the job, said Madonna, will be someone to whom he is close.

"The chief of staff is almost like your surrogate," Madonna said. "When you are not there and the chief of staff says something, he or she knows you, knows what you're thinking, knows what you want."

Corbett on Wednesday did name Charles Zogby, a former top official in the Ridge administration, to fill one of the toughest jobs in the state Capitol these days: budget secretary.

Zogby, 48, of York County, is the senior vice president of education and policy for K12 Inc., an online school-curriculum developer and provider.

Zogby was education secretary under Govs. Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker. He also served as Ridge's policy director.

Corbett said in a statement: "Our goal is to enact a responsible, commonsense budget. Charles Zogby's experience and knowledge of the inner workings of state government make him an ideal choice as budget secretary."

Zogby has a difficult job ahead, entering the fray during a time of severe budget problems.

The state is facing an estimated $4 billion deficit next year.

And Corbett campaigned on a promise to not raise taxes, which means he will either have to drastically cut spending or sell off state assets - he favors privatizing the Liquor Control Board - or some combination.


Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934

or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

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