Lame-duck lawmakers see that state jobs, tough votes equal political heat
(MCT) — Three dozen lame-duck lawmakers learned Tuesday that there is life in state government after they leave the General Assembly, but they might face political heat if they vote for a tough measure and then land a state job with a big salary.
That dynamic was on display as the Senate considered whether to approve several appointments made by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Former Democratic Rep. Bob Flider of Decatur became the latest ex-lawmaker to get grilled by Republicans about why he switched his opposition to a tax increase only weeks after he lost his 2010 re-election campaign.
Flider gave Quinn one of the critical 60 House Democratic votes the governor needed to pass a major income tax hike. That key vote came during the closing days of Flider's term in early January 2011 — a time when he was a lame duck not returning to the House.
A little more than a year later, Quinn appointed Flider the state's director of agriculture. The $133,000-a-year job came with a paycheck that's nearly twice what he made as a lawmaker.
The timing of Flider's appointment and the income tax vote set off a volley of criticism from Republican senators at Flider's confirmation hearing — one that Senate Democrats delayed until after the latest election to limit political damage.
Flider won committee approval and his confirmation now goes to the full Senate, but it didn't move forward quietly.
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said he "struggled with" how Flider could campaign strongly against a tax increase and then change his mind so quickly once he lost the election. Righter said the appointment after Flider's switch in his position is "exactly what's wrong with this process."
Flider said he and Quinn never discussed his tax hike vote in conjunction with the agriculture position. Flider said he could have been "knocked over with a feather" when Quinn asked him to take the job.
Unsatisfied, Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, questioned whether Flider would even agree the appearance of his vote and the follow-up appointment "is not good."
"I think the truth sets you free," Flider responded, "and I know the truth, and there was never, ever any discussion, any inference whatsoever about a vote or this appointment or any appointment."
State worker salaries
Also Tuesday, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, advanced a resolution calling for the state to hold the line on how much it should spend on union wages. It's a move made as the state struggles to make ends meet and its largest union is in protracted contract negotiations with Quinn.
Gambling expansion in January?
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he expected to see a new version of gambling expansion emerge in January. Earlier this year, Quinn vetoed a measure that featured five new casinos, including one for Chicago. Instead of pushing to override Quinn's veto, Cullerton indicated that negotiating a new bill with the governor and other parties might be the way to go. It will take fewer votes to pass a bill in January than it does now.