A March 18 special election will determine who fills the remaining months of former Republican Sen. Mike Waugh's term in the 28th Senate District, fueling an already intense race for the vacant seat's full four-year term.
After weeks of rumors that Waugh would resign before the end of his term in December 2014, Gov. Tom Corbett announced Monday that he has appointed Waugh as the new complex director of the Pennsylvania Farm Show and Expo Center. About the same time Monday, Waugh made public his resignation from the Senate, which was effective a day earlier.
A Democratic candidate has not yet stepped forward, but two Republicans have announced plans to run in the May 20 primary for the full term of the seat, to which Waugh was elected in 1998. They are among the possible contenders for the special election, which one controversial candidate has said is likely to be biased in favor of whomever the "Republican establishment" wishes to fill the seat for the full term.
Waugh's resignation sets in motion the procedures through which the local Republican and Democratic parties nominate people to serve as candidates for the special election because, unlike a typical election, there's no time for a public primary to select who will appear on the ballot.
"With the budget debate about to begin, residents of the City and County of York deserve to be fully represented in the legislature," said Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley in his announcement of the special election. ".... I decided to set an early date to give those citizens the chance to elect a state senator as soon as possible."
Waugh announced last year he would not be running for re-election because of a health condition, but politicos had originally expected him to serve his full term.
Politics: Those who have announced campaigns are businessman Scott Wagner and veterans' advocate Zack Hearn.
Wagner, a tea party supporter whose relationship with the mainstream Republican Party has been strained, said he thinks the resignation and appointment are part of "back room dealings" meant to give another Republican candidate an edge in the election for the seat.
The candidate put forward to run for the special election would have an advantage in the general election for a full term in the seat because he or she would be an incumbent, Wagner said.
Wagner said he will submit himself for consideration and he "should be" the Republican candidate, as he has already raised nearly $300,000 for his campaign, more than three times the total cost of a typical Senate race.
But Wagner said he suspects the Republican party will select Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, to run in the special election because he's more of a party loyalist. Miller has said he's contemplating a run, but he has not committed to candidacy. Miller could not immediately be reached Monday after the special election was announced.
Hearn said Monday night he was still considering whether to run for the special election.
'Kool-Aid': Wagner said it's odd Waugh was not running for re-election because of his health but "now he's healthy enough to take the farm show position," and he suspects the resignation and appointment are part of a larger scheme to keep Wagner from taking public office.
"I'm just not one of their clique, so to say," he said. "I'm not part of their fraternity and I'm not going to come to Harrisburg and drink their Kool-Aid. I'm not surprised, I'm somewhat honored that they're putting so much effort into trying to keep me out. I'm more determined than ever."
Unlikely agreement: It is perhaps unusual for the conservative Wagner to share a viewpoint with Bob Kefauver, who chairs the Democratic Party of York County, but the special election is such a circumstance.
Kefauver said Monday the Republican leadership seems to be working "exceedingly fast" to try to fill the seat.
There are about nine weeks between Waugh's resignation and the special election to fill his seat, while leaders waited 18 weeks between Democratic former Rep. Eugene DePasquale's Jan. 15, 2013, resignation and the May 21 special election to fill the seat. Legislators said the May 21 special election was held the same day as the primary so it wouldn't cost taxpayers extra money to hold a separate election. This year's primary is May 20.
"They were willing to do the economically responsible thing last year, but not this year, and that adds more fuel to the fire with the chatter ... that this was all done to freeze out Scott Wagner," Kefauver said.
It costs taxpayers more to hold a special election separate from the primary, Kefauver said, and the rushed timing also seems to suggest Republicans want to give a preferred candidate an edge.
"It's yet another example of the Republicans putting politics before what's best," he said.
But Bob Wilson, who chairs the county's Republican Party, said there is no backroom deal.
"I don't even know what that is," Wilson said. "I have no idea what (Wagner) is referring to. I can assure you there has not been a 'deal' put in place. That's just ludicrous."
Wilson said the special election candidate selection process will be "very open" and fair.
If Wagner provides the required information, he will be among the candidates the local Republican committee considers to run in the special election, Wilson said.
The committee wouldn't just insert Miller into the candidacy, Wilson said, and Miller hasn't even announced his candidacy.
Details: Republicans who want to be considered for the seat must submit a letter of intent and a resume. Whether mailed, hand-delivered, or emailed, the information must arrive at the York County Republican Headquarters in Springettsbury Township by 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17. Headquarters is located at 2453 Kingston Court, Suite 101, York, 17402. They can be emailed to email@example.com.
The Democratic Party of York County is also accepting letters of interest and resumes until 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17. They should be mailed to DPOYC c/o Attn. Bob Kefavuer, P.O. Box 1862, York, 17405 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Democratic headquarters is located at 275 W. Market St.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.