Illinois' new Republican governor followed through on a campaign pledge Friday to replace the director of the Department of Agriculture, a former state lawmaker whom he'd criticized for not being a farmer.
Bruce Rauner's office announced that former Illinois Farm Bureau president Philip Nelson of Seneca would be replacing outgoing director Bob Flider in the agency's top post. Nelson, a fourth-generation farmer who owns and operates Nelson Farms, was also the 2014 Illinois Farmer of the Year.
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The appointment is one of many Rauner has announced since his inauguration on Monday.
During the Winnetka businessman's campaign against Democratic former Gov. Pat Quinn, Rauner had criticized the agriculture department for being run by "folks that generally don't have much expertise."
Rauner also criticized Flider — a former Democratic state lawmaker — for his lack of direct farming experience.
Flider told The Associated Press he's proud of his work at the department. He noted an increase in the state's exports, improved relationships with agribusinesses, and the development of a nutrient production strategy for the state during his three years at the helm. He also said he believed his 20 years of private-sector experience in the electric and gas energy industry helped him to "hit the ground running" as agency director.
Flider called Nelson a "friend" and said he has been working with him in recent days on the transition.
"I want to see him succeed," Flider said, adding "I don't think (Rauner's) criticisms were about the agency but about me personally. I think it was an issue that was more personal in nature probably brought on in an election year."