CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After a brutal, almost yearlong campaign for agriculture commissioner, Walt Helmick is taking a short political hiatus before settling into his new job.
The state senator from Pocahontas County said he hasn't been in contact with the state Department of Agriculture since winning Tuesday's election to replace longtime Commissioner Gus Douglass, who has served as state farm chief for four decades.
Helmick said he had his "nose to the plow" on Thursday, working around his home. Strong winds from this summer's derecho knocked down 25 trees on his 200-acre property, but his campaign duties have prevented him from properly cleaning them up.
"I'll talk to Gus and look at what's there, but I'm not going to do anything for a little while," he said. "I'll get down to work here in a week or two."
Helmick said he briefly visited the department in the spring after he won Democrats' nomination but has not returned since.
"I didn't want to interrupt the daily operation," he said.
When Helmick takes office this January, he will inherit a department with about 350 employees and a $42.8 million budget, according to TransparencyWV.org.
All department employees serve at the will and pleasure of the agriculture commissioner. When asked if he plans to clean house once he enters office, Helmick said he would make sure "the best people are in place to move forward."
Two top agriculture department staffers, deputy commissioner Bob Tabb and assistant commissioner Steve Miller, ran against Helmick in the May Democrat primary.
At an April meeting with the Daily Mail's editorial board, Helmick made it clear some heads would roll if he were elected.