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Local lawmakers uneasy about Quinn's ag nominee

To our local representatives in Springfield, the nomination of former Rep. Bob Flider to head the Illinois Department of Agriculture smells like a cow pasture on a warm day.

Flider, a Democrat who served eight years in the Illinois House before losing in 2010, was one of the 12 lame-duck legislators who voted in favor of the 67 percent income tax increase. He is the fourth since then to be in line for a state job – or the sixth, if you count two who got jobs with Cook County.

His hiring for the position, with its $133,273 salary, must first go through the Senate Executive Appointments Committee, then to the full Senate for a vote. Dan Duffy, one of McHenry County’s two senators, said he has no intention of approving Flider.

“This is the latest example of the ‘Quinn pro quo’ mentality. Our governor has no shame – do him a favor and he’ll give you a generous reward, paid for by the Illinois taxpayers,” said Duffy, R-Lake Barrington.

Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, said she would not make a decision until she weighed Flider’s experience and history. But the nomination raised questions for Althoff, for more reasons than Flider’s tax hike vote.

“Obviously, I’m not pleased with the apparent proclivity of the governor to select former legislators to the highest positions in state government,” Althoff said.

Quinn’s office, which denies Republican allegations of political payback, said the decision announced Wednesday is based on Flider’s years of working on agricultural issues in House committees. He was named a “Friend of Agriculture” by the Illinois Farm Bureau in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Flider, D-Mount Zion, and Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Morris, both campaigned against the tax increase in their 2010 election campaigns, but changed their minds on their last day as legislators. The tax increase, passed by one vote with no Republican support, raised the income tax 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses.

Three days after the vote, Quinn recommended Gordon to an $86,000-a-year seat on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. She withdrew her name before the confirmation process began in response to the Republican-led backlash, but Quinn later appointed her as associate general counsel to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which pays $84,000.

Outgoing Democratic state Reps. Mike Smith and David Miller, who also voted for the tax increase, later landed jobs with the Educational Labor Relations Board and the Illinois Department of Public Health. Two others – John O’Sullivan and Michael Carberry – landed government jobs with Cook County.

The Illinois House does not have a vote on Quinn’s Cabinet appointment, but local legislators weighed in on Flider’s nomination as well.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said the nomination “doesn’t look good,” but said that questions regarding a political quid pro quo are best answered by the governor and his nominee.

He shared Althoff’s concern about how Quinn fills such vacancies, citing last year’s appointment of Dan Seals as assistant director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Seals ran three times for Congress as a Democrat against Republicans Mark Kirk and Robert Dold.

“The governor tends to put people on the payroll who have lost elections,” Franks said. “I don’t know that that’s a good way to choose who is going to be in the upper echelons of our government.”

While Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, praised Flider’s ability to work with other people, he said that Flider will face tough questions, but questions that need to be asked.

“You lose your election and then you win the grand prize if you vote for the tax increase. This question is on everybody’s mind, and will come up during the confirmation process,” Tryon said.

An incensed Duffy brought up the fact that Quinn made the official announcement the same day that the University of Illinois of Chicago released a report naming Illinois the third most corrupt state by convictions in the U.S., and Chicago the most corrupt city.

“One hundred and thirty thousand dollars a year, plus a full pension, because he voted for that tax increase,” Duffy said.

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