Former senator Mike Waugh's new job as director of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center will draw upon his lifelong love of agriculture, an interest he has furthered as both a farmer and a legislator.
The 58-year-old Republican whose cowboy hat and handlebar mustache distinguished him among state legislators will be in charge of the 24-acre complex that hosts the farm show and hundreds of other events every year.
Gov. Tom Corbett named the Shrewsbury Township man to the post Monday about the same time Waugh announced he had resigned from the 28th District Senate seat that he has held since January 1999. He spent six years in the House of Representatives before his tenure in the Senate, and owned a construction company before entering politics.
While the new job might be an obvious interest match for the former legislator, the news could take some of his former constituents by surprise.
Last year, Waugh announced he would be retiring from the 28th Senate District at the end of his term, which expires in December 2014, because of a battle with an unnamed medical condition.
Historically shy of media, Waugh hasn't publicly announced the name of the condition nor his status in his battle with it. But he said Monday that his health has improved and he's doing well, and he wouldn't have taken the new job if he weren't.
He and his wife had decided a couple of years ago that he shouldn't finish his working life in the General Assembly, he said, and he promised himself he "wouldn't stay around so long that people wondered when I was going to retire.
Then, the farm show position "sort of fell in my lap" with the retirement of Patrick Kerwin, who is retiring after serving as the facility's director since 2005, Waugh said.
Colleagues respond: Sen. Pat Vance, R-York and Cumberland counties, who worked with Waugh in both the House and Senate, said his new appointment is appropriate given his farming background.
"He's always been very vocal about agricultural issues and, if you know Mike, he doesn't speak on every issue," she said. "He's quiet, but being quiet is not necessarily a sin."
As Majority Caucus Chairman, Waugh rarely spoke on an issue but instead allowed Republicans on both sides of the issues to express themselves, she said.
"Occasionally, things could get heated," Vance said. "He's low-key, steady, and maintained order. And I think all of us should want to be known as honest and forthright, and he met that criteria."
Sen. Rich Alloway, R-York, Adams and Franklin counties, said Waugh never had highs or lows, but remained calm in all situations.
"As a senator and a person, Mike Waugh has been a true gentleman, a steady hand in our caucus, and I'm going to miss him tremendously," Alloway said.
Alloway said the Senate leadership is expected to notify senators that the caucus chair position is open "and see who's interested in running." Farming background: Waugh is a York County native who grew up farming and operates Glen Ridge Farm, the equine, grain and hay farm on which he lives. He has also been a regular competitor with his draft horses at the annual farm show, for which he served as a commissioner for 15 years.
The legislator has always focused on agricultural and livestock-related issues that made their way through the General Assembly, he said Monday, and he counts the passage of his bill to end inheritance tax for family farmers among his proudest accomplishments.
But his most significant accomplishment was the establishment of a statewide uniform construction code, which took "the better part of six or seven years" and included years in both the House and the Senate, he said. The resulting legislation that became law ensures standards to keep people safe, he said.
But there have also been some bulls that Waugh couldn't ride.
Property tax reform was needed before he ever took a seat in the legislature, and it remains with his departure, he said. His idea to save school districts money by using standardized design prototypes also never got the traction it needed, he said.
The new job: Waugh said Monday that he'll work to increase the farm show facility's usage, revenue and efficiency while keeping it true to its agriculture and livestock roots.
The complex and expo center hosts more than 300 events and meetings and brings more than a million visitors annually, according to Corbett's office.
Waugh's appointment was effective Monday, and Waugh will be paid $104,294, said Department of Agriculture press secretary Samantha Krepps.
Corbett's office is rebutting reports that question the legality of Waugh's appointment under Article II, Section 6 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That section bars senators and representatives from being appointed to any paid state "civil office" during the time for which they were elected.
Corbett press secretary Jay Pagni said the section doesn't extend to all employment with the Commonwealth, and there are exceptions based on the nature of the service and the duties.
Waugh's new job is a public position, but not a "civil office," Pagni said.
Waugh said Monday he researched the issue prior to determining whether he was even allowed to look into the Farm Show position, and he's confident that his appointment is completely legal or he wouldn't have accepted it.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.