With Gov. JB Pritzker swept into office by a political tidal wave carried along by shifting alliances and a changing electorate, Illinois Democrats will have a chance to implement policies that have been at the top of wish lists for progressive Democrats across the nation.The standing-room-only crowd at the Bank of Springfield Center cheered Pritzker and the other constitutional officers as they each in turn laid out their visions for Illinois, and got in little digs at the previous four years under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
After beginning his inaugural address with an anecdote about a church that rose from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire, Pritzker said Illinois faces a similar challenge.
Pritzker quoted the Rev. Robert Collyer, pastor of the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, who reassured his parishioners that though their homes and businesses had been consumed the fire, the city had not lost its heart, or its hope, Pritzker said
“The fire makes no difference to me,” Pritzker quoted Collyer as having said. “If you’ll stay here, I will. And we’ll work together, and help each other out of our troubles.”The story could’ve been a subtle nod to Illinois’ out-migration issue, which Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who is also running for mayor of Chicago, also mentioned, referring to Illinois as “the greatest state.”
“Don’t even think about moving anywhere else,” Mendoza joked. “This is where you want to be. This is it. The weather only weeds out the people who don’t deserve to live here.”
Newly minted Attorney General Kwame Raoul told the crowd that “some criticisms of state government are legitimate,” but said his overall priority will be continuing the fight back against “federal attacks on our values” — a reference to President Donald Trump, a battle that former Attorney General Lisa Madigan launched.
Pritzker acknowledged the need for Illinois’ government to be more efficient, and echoed one of Rauner’s promises by vowing to bring Illinois’ information technology systems up to date. But Pritzker did not hesitate to listwhat he and other Democrats consider failures of the Rauner era, as the former governor sat on stage.
“Inexpensive healthcare prevention programs were decimated, causing higher spending to treat diseases that could have been cured,” Pritzker said. “Balancing the budget means lowering the cost of government while delivering the high quality services Illinoisans deserve.”
The governor also received major applause from a line that both promised progressive ideals and blasted the Rauner administration.
“But be clear about this: I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering,” Pritzker said. “I won’t hollow out the functions of government to achieve an ideological agenda — I won’t make government the enemy and government employees the scapegoats. Responsible fiscal management is a marriage of numbers — and values.”
The governor’s most forceful lines came when promising a fight against those who would get in the way of his goal of implementing a graduated income tax.
“Our regressive tax system, including property taxes and sales taxes, currently has the middle class paying more than double the rate the wealthy pay,” Pritzker said. “That’s not fair, and it also doesn’t pay our bills.”
Pritzker vowed to work for equal rights for women, minorities and LGBT citizens, and promised to tackle climate change, telling the crowd: “I believe in science.”
“To that end, as one of my first acts as governor, Illinois will become a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, upholding the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Accord,” he said, prompting sustained applause.
Both Pritzker and Raoul listed fighting gun violence as top priorities of their terms, with Raoul noting that there had been a shooting on his block in Hyde Park just last week.
Though the General Assembly passed two gun bills Rauner signed last year, sponsors of a bill to license gun dealers in Illinois held off sending that bill to Rauner, who had already vetoed it once before, and the bill will land instead on Pritzker’s desk early in his term.
The governor also gave a nod to organized labor, which endorsed him early on in the race. Rauner had protracted fights with public employee unions, most notable AFSCME Council 31, which contributed to Illinois’ 736-day budget impasse.
“Working men and women deserve to have a governor and a Department of Labor that will enforce laws protecting workers’ wages and workers’ rights,” Pritzker said. “And they deserve a $15 minimum wage. It’s good for the working families of Illinois and good for our economy.”
The governor also promised to make good on his promise to legalize — and tax — recreational marijuana, a proposal popular with voters, but one that could take years to be implemented to address those incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes.
Pritzker had frequently begun campaign speeches with a line telling supporters that “everything we believe in is under attack” by Trump and Rauner.
But now that one half of that Republican duo has moved out of the governor’s mansion in Springfield, and the $270 million campaign is over, Pritzker will face a lengthy to-do list on his new desk Tuesday morning.
But first, Pritzker danced to “How Sweet It Is” by James Taylor with his wife, MK, and then treated the crowd to concert by Maroon 5 — who will play the Super Bowl in a few weeks.