Changes coming to Corbett's staff?

Leslie Gromis-Baker: Sources say she's likely to step in.
Leslie Gromis-Baker: Sources say she's likely to step in.
Posted: July 18, 2013

IT HAPPENS every so often.

I mean rumors and speculation that finally Gov. Corbett is about to shake things up with significant changes in his senior staff.

It's happening now - the rumors - not surprisingly.

It's summertime, the Legislature's gone and the guv's bad polling numbers seem stuck in place.

Also, he's coming off an 0-for-3 outing on his agenda for booze, pensions and transportation funding after declaring 0-for-3 "unacceptable," then accepting it.

Yes, he's still the governor.

Yes, his no-new-taxes and (sort of) on-time budgets are popular with many.

And, yes, a large field of would-be Democratic challengers is completely capable of self-destruction and/or nominating someone ill-suited to a statewide race.

But multiple sources closely tied to the administration suggest change is coming.

It is not unusual for incumbents to make inner-circle adjustments before re-election campaigns.

Political allies of the governor, in and out of government, have said for some time that Corbett's current senior staff hasn't served him well in dealing with the Legislature, pushing policy or creating a public image.

Things have since gotten worse.

A GOP poll, organized by Harper Polling, taken at the start of July says just 24 percent of the state's electorate thinks Corbett deserves a second term. And last week, the Washington Post named Corbett America's most vulnerable incumbent governor.

"I don't know how the governor can run an effective re-election race if he keeps the same people there," said a well-placed source speaking on condition of anonymity.

Others say making changes in Corbett's staff at this stage won't much help.

One former supporter, now a critic, says, "It's like a bad carpenter throwing out his tools to get new tools: He's still a bad carpenter."

Still, there's a sense Corbett needs to do something to convince allies and donors that he sees he has problems and aims to address them.

So exits appear to be in order, though who and how many remains unclear; changes are described by one key source as "in a state of flux."

Plus, Corbett's office already has been through one round of replacements.

Several insiders say chief of staff Steve Aichele, Corbett's former general counsel, is on his way out the door. Aichele was named staff chief in May 2012, replacing now-Allegheny County Judge Bill Ward.

"Gone soon or by end of summer," one source said.

Most often mentioned as a replacement for Aichele is Leslie Gromis-Baker, a veteran political fundraiser and consultant described within Republican circles as talented and respected.

She worked for Gov. Tom Ridge, managed his 1998 re-election campaign and was a regional director for George W. Bush's 2004 presidential re-election campaign.

Efforts to contact Gromis-Baker were unsuccessful.

A change is expected in the post of secretary of legislative affairs, held by Christopher Carusone. He got the gig in August after Corbett named his then-legislative director, Annmarie Kaiser, to the state Gaming Control Board.

Insiders do get taken care of.

Corbett's general counsel, James Schultz, who replaced Aichele last year, reportedly was on the list. Two sources said former Ridge secretary of administration Tom Paese - who along with Gromis-Baker co-directed Corbett's 2010 transition team - was approached about the counsel job.

But Paese, an attorney with Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney in Washington and Harrisburg, reportedly is staying with the law firm.

Press secretary Kevin Harley - Corbett's press secretary when he was attorney general and someone to whom Corbett is called fiercely loyal - could be moved to another position.

Harley did not respond to a request for comment on any possible changes.

There is a caveat in all this: Corbett isn't known for quick decisions.

Transitions could take time. And one source says if the Gromis-Baker appointment isn't made soon, it's possible it won't be made at all.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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