SPRINGFIELD – The man in charge of the state's farm agency found himself in the middle of the political slugfest for governor this week.

In outlining his plans for agriculture, Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner took a jab at Bob Flider, the director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Although Rauner's four-page outline on ag policy didn't mention Flider by name, it was clear to political observers what Rauner meant when he said, "Appointees at the Department of Agriculture will have first-hand farming experience."

Flider became a lightning rod for GOP criticism in 2012 when Quinn appointed him as the state's corn and bean czar despite never having been a farmer.

But Flider had voted in favor of Quinn's controversial 67 percent income tax increase after having campaigned against it during his unsuccessful run for re-election in 2010 against then-newcomer Adam Brown, R-Champaign.

Flider was among a handful of lame-duck Democrats who landed jobs in the Quinn administration after voting "yes" on the tax hike.

During his Senate confirmation hearings in November 2012, Flider argued he is qualified for the job because of his experience as a lawmaker representing an agriculturally rich district that included the headquarters of Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Decatur.

Flider wasn't made available for comment Friday, but Quinn's campaign office released a statement outlining the administration's ag-related achievements.

As an example, the campaign said Illinois continues to rank first in soybean and second in corn production nationally. And, the state is a top exporter, with sales of $8.3 billion in agricultural products overseas.

Brown, meanwhile, now serves as one of Rauner's advisers on farm issues.

As a fifth-generation farmer, Brown said Flider's lack of farming experience and his support of an estate tax continue to rankle him.

Brown said farms are being stripped of their value before being handed down to the next generation because of the estate tax.

"That erodes the solid moral fabric that we all believe is so essential to Illinois agriculture. To see him be appointed to that post after such a vote causes me great concern," Brown said.

Brown said he hopes Rauner doesn't play politics with his agency appointments.

"I would urge Rauner to focus on the educational background as well as the administrative background of candidates. I think that serves everyone well," Brown said.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf signaled that the farm experience mandate for the ag post might be the only agency appointment where a vocational requirement is in place.

"Bruce is committed to appointing the best possible candidates across all agencies and thinks an agricultural background is important for that agency," Schrimpf said Friday.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

Springfield Bureau Chief for the Herald & Review

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