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Old criticisms resurface for new Illinois agriculture chief

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is once again fighting off charges from critics that he is rewarding a supporter of last year's income tax increase with a cushy state government job.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is once again fighting off charges from critics that he is rewarding a supporter of last year's income tax increase with a cushy state government job.

Quinn today named Bob Flider as director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Flider, who has started the job, will be paid $133,273 annually, though the Quinn administration is quick to point out that the director of agriculture's salary is set by state statue.

Flider, a former Democratic state representative from the Decatur area, lost his re-election bid in November 2010. But he returned for a lame duck session in January 2011 — before the new General Assembly was sworn in — and voted for Quinn's 67 percent income tax increase and 47 percent corporate tax increase

But Flider insisted that his vote for the tax increases had nothing to do with his new post in the Quinn administration.

"The governor and I never once had a discussion about a tax increase, or anything associated with a tax increase and this position," said Flider.

However, state Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, who defeated Flider in the 2010 election, said, "It looks like, from my vantage point, that he is accepting a position with state government for turning his back on his constituents."

Former Director of Agriculture Chuck Hartke said, "I don't think (Flider's appointment) is payback by any means. You can pick and choose any piece of legislation that Flider voted on over the years and say there is a connection (to the appointment)."

Hartke served as director of the Department of Agriculture from 2003 to 2008. Before that position, Hartke was a state legislator from 1985 to 2003.

Quinn said in a statement announcing Flider's appointment that "Bob Flider was a tireless, effective leader for rural farming communities and global agri-business leaders."

Flider's background includes being:

  • A state representative from 2003 to 2011, part of which he served on the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee;
  • The mayor of Mount Zion from 1995 to 2003;
  • A Mount Zion village trustee from 1991 to 1995.

However, Brown said Flider has never been a farmer or even worked in agriculture.

"It's a slap in the face to my background because I am a fifth-generation family farmer," Brown said. "Take a look at former Rep. Flider's background in agriculture. Think it leaves a little something to be desired."

Flider began his career as a newspaper reporter in Charleston, and most recently worked with the nonprofit Connected Illinois, which advocates for broadband Internet access in rural parts of the state.

Brown said Illinois' agricultural economy plays a huge role in the state's overall economy.

John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm advocate and lobbying group, said one in eight jobs in the state is somehow tied to the farm.

"Back in 2010, the most recent numbers we have, Illinois' total sales of crops and livestock topped $14.8 billion," Hawkins said.

Flider is the latest in a string of lawmakers who voted for the 2011 tax increase and later found new jobs in state government.

Quinn nominated former state Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Morris, to an $86,000-a-year job as a lawyer with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, but she later took an $84,000-a-year job as a lawyer with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, after the state Senate would not approve her nomination.

The governor also found a spot in his administration for former state Rep. Mike Smith, D-Canton, who ended up as an appointed trustee, earning more than $93,000 a year with the state's Education Labor Relations Board.

But David Morrison, director of the good government watchdog group, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said people should not read too much into the appointments.

"When the Republicans controlled the governor's office, they appointed former lawmakers as well," Morrison said. "There has always been a revolving door between the Legislature and the executive branch. It is tough to say what event starts that door moving around."

Flider replaces retired Illinois Agriculture Director Tom Jennings.

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