Gov.-elect Tom Corbett on Tuesday announced his first cabinet appointments, tapping four longtime aides from the state Attorney General's Office to become members of his inner circle when he becomes governor.
Corbett named Brian Nutt as his chief of staff; Annmarie Kaiser as his legislative affairs secretary; Jennifer Branstetter as his policy and planning director; and Kevin Harley as communications director.
"I'm grateful that such an experienced and trusted group of professionals is joining my administration," Corbett said in a statement. "They have worked closely with me on a daily basis for years, and I look forward to continuing to work with them as we tackle the challenges facing Pennsylvania."
Nutt, 39, is the Corbett transition team's chief of staff. He was Corbett's gubernatorial campaign manager and previously served as his chief of staff in the Attorney General's Office. Nutt also managed Corbett's attorney general campaigns in 2004 and 2008.
Kaiser, 41, is serving as Corbett's acting chief of staff in the Attorney General's Office, as well as as his director of legislative affairs. Prior to joining the Attorney General's Office in 2005, she was the executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association.
Branstetter, 38, is the transition team's policy director; she held the same position in Corbett's gubernatorial campaign. Before that, she was the director of education and outreach in the Attorney General's Office. Prior to joining the Attorney General's Office, Branstetter was a communications manager for the Pennsylvania Bar Association and a deputy press secretary to Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker.
Harley, 47, is the transition team's communications director; he held the same position for Corbett's gubernatorial election. Harley also was the communications director and press secretary for Corbett in the Attorney General's Office.
All four live in the Harrisburg area.
Harley said Tuesday that he didn't know what their salaries - including his own - would be. That information, he said, would not be available until inauguration day, Jan. 18.
"It's not something we've discussed," he said.
Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said that with his appointments, Corbett has effectively created an insular environment that will allow for frank discussions while ensuring "a tight, leak-free administration."
But, said Borick, in such groups there is a danger of "group think" impeding innovation.
"That's when you have people who are so comfortable together, they begin to think alike," he said. "There are no dissenting opinions in the room."
Still, said G. Terry Madonna, professor and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College, lack of dissent matters little, particularly in a strained economy where there is little money for innovation.
"This is an administration that has to deal with a deficit and make cuts, not an administration looking for new programs to expand the role of government. For this administration," Madonna said, "there will be a relatively limited set of options available."
With little diversity of work histories among the core staffers, the administration will need to go elsewhere for subject-matter expertise, Borick said.
"It's reasonable to ask whether they will be ready to take on the broader challenges of a gubernatorial office where the job requires some breadth," Borick said. "Corbett might argue that his staff is already in Harrisburg and knows the culture and general environment."