By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — From the time he was nominated by Gov. Pat Quinn to become the state’s new interim director of agriculture, former state Rep. Bob Flider’s appointment became a political hot potato.
But after the Illinois Senate late last month voted 33-16 to drop the “interim” part of the title in front of Flider’s name, Flider restated that his new $133,000-a-year job wasn’t a matter of payback for a vote Quinn recently sought while Flider was a legislator.
A Democrat who lost his reelection bid in November 2010, Flider campaigned against a controversial proposal to increase the state’s income tax – something Quinn pushed hard to get. As a lame duck lawmaker two months later, he voted in favor of the tax proposal.
About a year later, Quinn nominated Flider to become the state’s top ag official, a move that angered Illinois Republicans. Several noted Flider, a Mt. Zion resident, didn’t make ag issues a top priority of his during his four terms as a state representative, nor does he have an ag background.
One of his central Illinois colleagues in the Senate was sharply critical of Flider’s appointment. During floor debate on the appointment, Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from Mattoon, said the nomination after Flider’s switch in tax positions was “exactly what’s wrong with this process.
“Anyone who’s been here for more than a term, more than a year, in fact, has noticed the increasing number of people back home ... who look at the Capitol building with disgust,” Righter said. “They say, ‘You know what? That building more and more is filled with people who are taking care of each other.’”
But the former Mt. Zion mayor has served well as interim ag director during the past 11 months, said Sen. Michael Frerichs, a Democrat from Champaign. Flider also restated that he never had a discussion with Quinn about the tax proposal before he voted on it, nor did they discuss his appointment as ag director before he left the House.
“I think the truth sets you free,” Flider said. “I know the truth, and there was never, ever any discussion, any inference whatsoever about a vote or this appointment or any appointment.”
Flider has strong supporters in the state’s ag community, and he did serve on the state House’s ag committee.
“Bob Flider worked well in the agricultural arena when he served in the General Assembly,” said Philip Nelson, president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “Bob’s door was always open, and we look forward to working with him in his new role as director of the Department of Agriculture.”