Gov. Pat Quinn isn't the first governor to come under fire for appointing political cronies to high-paying state jobs.

There's a lot of payback and back scratching that goes on in politics.

Recently, Quinn appointed former state Rep. Mike Smith to a $94,000-per-year seat on the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board.

The appointment drew howls of protest because Smith was among those lame duck Democrats who voted in favor of the January income tax hike after he'd lost his bid for re-election.

So, in exchange, Smith gets a cushy job, right?

That's not exactly how it should be viewed. There wasn't any surprise that Smith voted "yes" on the tax hike. During his tenure, the Democrat from Canton was an advocate of raising taxes to help raise money for schools. So, it wasn't exactly a tough vote for him to make.

But, what's puzzling about his appointment to the board is that Smith doesn't appear technically qualified to sit on the board.

State statutes dictate that members must have "a minimum of five years of experience directly related to labor and employment relations in representing educational employers or educational employees in collective bargaining matters."

The governor's office last week argued that Smith is indeed qualified because he served on House committees concerned with education and pensions.

"His 16 years of experience surpasses the minimum requirements set by statute, and we feel strongly that he is qualified in every way," spokeswoman Annie Thompson noted in an email.

Republicans are calling it a sham.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said the Lemont Republican is "disappointed that it appears they are willing to violate the law or its spirit."

"The statute lays out clear qualifications that should be met before anyone is nominated to the Education Labor Relations Board. Those qualifications are in place because of the important work that the board does," the leader said.

On Wednesday, Smith's nomination was scheduled to be heard by a Senate committee, which must formally endorse him for the position. But, his appearance and confirmation was put on hold, perhaps until this fall.

State Sen. Tony Munoz, who chairs the Senate Executive Appointments Committee, was asked if the delay was because Smith doesn't really qualify for the job.

Munoz said he was siding with the Quinn administration's interpretation of the statute.

"He's been in the Legislature. He has a lot of experience. I'm looking at it based on the experience," Munoz said.

In the meantime, Smith can still serve on the board and earn his salary even though he hasn't been formally confirmed by the Senate.

Mmmm, bacon

For better or worse, state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, is making quite a splash at the Capitol these days.

In May, McCarter alleged he was slugged in the chest by state Sen. Mike Jacobs, after he accused the East Moline Democrat of having a conflict of interest on a major utility bill. He kept the story alive by pushing for Jacobs to be prosecuted for the incident. The Sangamon County state's attorney decided against it.

Last week, McCarter put himself back in the spotlight when he brought a whole roasted hog to the Capitol as a prop for a news conference about runaway government spending.

In other words, in less than a month, McCarter has had a pig and a poke in the Capitol.

Potential opponents

McCarter could have a worthy opponent in next year's Republican primary. Under the newly drawn political maps, he was lumped into a district with state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville.

Luechtefeld said he could run in either that district or one to the south, which contains much of the same area he currently represents.

"Right now, unless something changes, I intend to run in one of those districts," Luechtefeld said last week. "I really don't know yet."

Things could get even more interesting in the fall general election. Jerry Costello II, the son of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello of Belleville, said last week he's likely going to run for a seat in the state Legislature in 2012, but isn't sure he'll seek a spot in the House or in the Senate.

"My father has cautioned me against getting into government. It can be a dirty business," Costello told my colleague Kevin McDermott last week.

Kurt Erickson is Lee Statehouse Bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043.

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