2 Farm Show heads + 1 special election = political intrigue - abc27 WHTM

2 Farm Show heads + 1 special election = political intrigue

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It unfolds like a political thriller, and critics say it's happening in Harrisburg and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The story stretches from Harrisburg's Farm Show Complex to the heart of York County.

The story, for some, begins in January when Mike Waugh resigned his state Senate seat and was immediately installed by Governor Tom Corbett as the new executive director of the Farm Show.

Waugh called it his "dream job," and it pays $104,000 a year.

But the former Farm Show executive director, Patrick Kerwin, is still on the payroll at $95,000. He's assisting Waugh's transition.

"It's not like we're passing on one Rolodex to another person," explained Samantha Krepps, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Farm Show. "You're passing on years and years of expertise and years and years of relationship building."

Krepps concedes that former executive directors haven't typically stayed on to transition their successors, but she adds, "We've learned that it's essential to have some form of transitionary period."

Kerwin has said he'll retire "sometime in 2014."

Waugh's resignation triggered a special election set for March 18. York County Republicans chose longtime state Representative Ron Miller (R-York) to face Democrat Linda Small in the special election.

"I think it's wrong," said Joel Sears, a conservative Republican who is on the York Suburban School Board. "It's an unprincipled way to keep voters out of the process."

Sears doesn't see dead people, but he does see political conspiracies with ties to Harrisburg. He says GOP power brokers in the Capitol are trying to push Miller into the Senate seat and keep challengers out.

"Once the hand-picked nominee [Miller] is placed, especially in a county like this, it's almost impossible for somebody other than a Republican to win," he said.

The special election is just two months before the regularly scheduled primary on May 20. Eugene DePasquale, who lives in the district, wonders why the rush. When he became auditor general last year,  the election to replace him in the legislature was held on Primary Day, when voters were already going to the polls.

"The debate is whether it's that important to have a senator a month and a half before a primary," DePasquale, a Democrat, said Tuesday morning. "The cost of that is about $200,000. I think in these tough budget times it's an important question to ask."

Sears has lots of tough questions for supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans and nobody seems to be answering:

- Why did Waugh resign so abruptly and then get a six-figure job so quickly when the other Farm Show head is still on the payroll?

- Why rush a special election two months before a scheduled primary at a cost of $200,000?

- Isn't the use of taxpayer money (cost of special election-Farm Show salary) in pursuit of politics a crime?

Sears suspects it all adds up to a behind-the-scenes attempt to stop conservative outsider and York County businessman Scott Wagner from getting an electoral foothold. Wagner has been a vocal critic of Senate leadership. Sears is a Wagner supporter.

"We're just corrupting the process by twisting and turning and cajoling to get an outcome that we the party thinks is the right outcome," he said. "What about we the people? What's the outcome we want? How do we finally get a chance to go to that voting booth and let us be the ones who say I want Ron Miller. I want Scott Wagner."

Predicted turnout for the March 18 special election is less than 15 percent.

It's been said that the special election is necessary so that Waugh's constituents can be properly represented in the Senate. But that prompts another question: If Miller wins the special, who will be representing his constituents in the House?


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