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ELECTIONS 2018: GOVERNOR J.B. Pritzker talks campaign, trans cousin and state budget
by Andrew Davis and Nina Matti
2017-08-16

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J.B. Pritzker seems to be everywhere these days.

The seemingly ubiquitous commercials touting his campaign as governor might be the sign of someone who has a lot of financial firepower—but Pritzker has also tried to convey that they show someone who is passionate about leaing Illinois in what he feels is the right direction.

In a recent interview with Windy City Times, Pritzker discussed various issues, including his experience with the LGBT community, transgender cousin ( Ret. ) Lt. Col. Jennifer Pritzker and the question for current Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Windy City Times: I'm going to start with something really basic: Why are you running? One of the other candidates we recently spoke with, Tio Hardiman, said, "I would ask J.B. Pritzker, who's a billionaire, 'Why are you running?' You're running as a hobby, and you're running for bragging rights."

J.B. Pritzker: I'm running because everything that I've worked on and cared about my whole life are under siege by Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump.

For 20-plus years, I've been a leader nationally in early childhood education; Bruce Rauner is cutting it down. I've been involved in civil rights, and Donald Trump is trying to take away rights. for many years now, I've worked on building the Illinois Holocaust Museum, which is teaching 50,000 kids in Illinois every year to fight bigotry, hatred and intolerance—including what the Holocaust meant to the LGBTQ community. Those values are under siege.

I ran the Illinois Human Rights Commission, which is the state's civil-rights court; I've endowed the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern—all of these issues are under attack. There's no job creation in this state—something I've been involved with [regarding] 1871, which I created; that's created more than 7,000 jobs and hundreds of millions in capital into the state. There are jobs I've created with my own businesses—more than 1,700. My partnerships with labor unions, working families—all of that is under attack by Bruce Rauner and his right-wing agenda. Those are the things that drive me to engage.

Regarding the question that the other candidate raised, this race isn't about money; it's about values and what you've been standing for your whole life. Just like CeaseFire and violence on the street matter to Tio Hardiman, I've been engaged in issues that have mattered to Illinois all my life. I didn't just decide to do this; it comes from values that your parents have instilled in you, and from your faith.

My parents were social-justice advocates. My mother was taking me around and knocking on doors for progressive Democratic candidates, and my dad was helping to elect Democrats to office. My mother, in the mid-1970s, was an LGBTQ-rights candidate. ( I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. ) You can't grow up in that environment and not have it in your DNA. The most important thing right now is removing Bruce Rauner as governor.

WCT: Can you elaborate on your experience with the LGBT community?

JBP: Yes. I grew up believing strongly in LGBT rights. When the opportunity came up to fight for the first openly gay candidate who ran for state representative, Larry McKeon; when Tom Chiola ran for circuit court judge in Cook County; when my two good friends wanted to get married in 1995—I was there for all of them. I offered to host that wedding in my backyard; I was backing [same-sex] marriage before it became popular. And back when Equality Illinois was known as the Illinois Federation of Human Rights, I was marching in the gay pride parade, when it more about issues than celebrations.

I've been engaged in this for more than 20 years, and I want to credit my mother for me believing in those things. I'm proud of that.

WCT: What do you think is the biggest obstacle for the LGBT community right now?

JBP: I'll pick out the one that's the most tragic and move on from there. One of the most tragic is LGBT teens who are kicked out of their homes because their parents don't accept them and who end up homeless. The teen-suicide rate among the LGBT community is very high—and even one is too high. Then, there aren't many places for homeless people to go, thanks to Bruce Rauner.

I think another tragedy is, particularly for the African-American trans community, is acceptance. The suicide and murder rates are high, and no one seems to focus on those.

Now there are some ills in the legislature, like with panic defenses; that's sitting on the governor's desk, and hopefully he'll sign it. I'll have an advisory committee, but I don't need one as a governor; I don't have to wake up and think about standing for justice.

WCT: Let me get a little personal. When Jennifer first told you about her transition, what was your reaction?

JBP: Proud. I think it's very hard—the pressures of society and the pressures of history work against someone who's lived their entire life feeling transgender but being unable to act on that. [Chokes back tears] She had to have suffered, so coming to a point in her life—I think she was 60—that struggle has to be overwhelming.

So a new day comes, and she has the courage to come and be herself. To not give up who you are ( "Yes, it's my gender" )—she's a brave soul. Yes, she's a Republican, but she's stood up and tell Republican officials, "This is who I am"—that's her. I don't think she's throwing it in anyone's face, but she has demonstrated so much bravery.

WCT: I wanted to ask you about sex education. What are your ideas about comprehensive sex education?

JBP: I'm not an expert in sex education, by any means. My education has been through my 12- and 14-year-olds, actually—and what they've had, I feel, has been pretty age-appropriate. My kids are open-minded and worldly on these topics. When you're a parent, you're constantly concerned but, again, I'm no expert.

WCT: Let's talk about the budget passage. What are your thoughts? Are you satisfied with it?

JBP: Well, this budget was far from perfect. Unfortunately, after 736 days ( not that I was counting ), the damage and devastation across the board was deep and intense. When mental-health facilities close and that's your lifeline, and when homeless shelters close—where are you going to go? People need touchstones that they rely upon. These things were happening for two years, and no state has ever had a budget impasse that happened this long.

This budget is what they could do, considering they had a stonewalling, hostage-taking governor. And to get a supermajority to override—Democrats and Republicans figured they had enough and, yes, there was a ton of compromise; there was even a billion dollars less spending than Bruce Rauner asked for. The governor wasn't going to sign anything.

The budget was the bare minimum required to avoid junk status in this state, [but] he doesn't avoid the tag "Governor Junk," however—which is what the Wall Street Journal labelled him.

WCT: Where do you see the future of the Democratic Party? It's unclear to a lot of people, including myself.

JBP: Well, I think the one thing we shouldn't dwell on is divisions, because the truth is that there's a common understanding of what it is to be a Democrat that I can articulate across the state. The history of the party is that we stand up for the middle class and build a safety as well as standing up for human and civil rights. That's what I feel the Democratic Party stands for; those meld quite nicely with my own values and my parents'.

All of the Democratic candidates for governor are for progressive income tax in the state. I'm for a $15 minimum wage [throughout] the state. I'm supported by 17 labor unions and the AFL-CIO. Making sure we have a just and equitable society is important to me, along with being pro-choice, pro-gay rights.So I think this expansive sense of rights is fundamentally what it means to be a Democratic. I don't think that divisions within the party are bigger than those things—and the Republican Party stands in opposition to all those things.

WCT: So if you could ask any of the other candidates one question—and that person had to answer—what would it be?

JBP: To Bruce Rauner—"Why?"

WCT: "Why..."

JBP: [Laughs] Well, there are about six clauses that come after that. You ran for governor saying that you're going to get things done, that you were going to say you're the education governor. You said you were pro-choice and that there was no social agenda. And it turns out he's not the education governor and, from behind his Carhartt jacket, he whipped out the hidden agenda with the Koch brothers—and [he knows] it's fundamentally a Democratic state. So that's my question: Why?

WCT: What's your biggest advantage and disadvantage in this race?

JBP: I think the biggest advantage that I have is that I have a real history of standing up on the issues—things that matter to the state of Illinois. Working on expanding [President] Obama's "No Kid Hungry" program—that matters. Things like working on the Illinois Holocaust Museum and standing up to bigotry, hatred and intolerance. Making Chicago one of the top 10 start-up hubs in the world—not just through starting 1871 but by leading other efforts in the community, like chairing ChicagoNEXT, Chicago's council on innovation and technology. These are things I work passionately to lead.

I think that's a huge advantage, not just as a candidate; I've been doing it my whole life. It's also a big advantage as governor—knowing how to do things for the whole state.

My biggest disadvantage is that I know—in a whole where a wealthy businessman has been a failed president and a failed governor—there's suspicion. But I hope what really matters is values, and a demonstration of that. I think I can overcome that association; no one fought harder against Trump last year than I did. I went to three different states and knocked on doors, I did phone banks and I gave money. Once I got out of my fetal position on election day, I urged people to keep fighting. I spoke out on his executive order, and I continue to protest against the ACA, or Trumpcare.

WCT: Earlier, you mentioned violence against trans people of color and the youth-homelessness problem. What you plan to do about those issues?

JBP: Well, there are several things. One is that we need training of police and authorities about trans issues as well as them being on alert about teens who are homeless. It's a hugely important thing—and the police have indicated they'd like more training. Leadership sets a tone, whether it's tolerance and intolerance. I think there are a lot of ways, like looking at laws that need to be passed.

WCT: What are your proudest of in your career?

JBP: [Pauses] I don't know. What am I proudest of? That's hard. I haven't sat idly by when i've seen people's rights trampled upon, or if there's a meaningful way to engage positive change. I've proud of not avoiding challenges; I like to run headlong into them.

This is one of a series of interviews Windy City Times is running regarding gubernatorial candidates. See www.jbpritzker.com/ .


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