Gov. JB Pritzker is running for re-election in the Democratic primary against challenger Beverly Miles. Prior to becoming governor, Pritzker spearheaded the creation of the non-profit business incubator 1871 and was the co-founder and managing partner of the Pritzker Group until he announced his 2018 gubernatorial candidacy.
Pritzker has been endorsed by a number of organizations including Personal PAC, Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, the Illinois National Organization for Women.
Windy City Times: Why do you think voters should [grant] you a second term in office?
JBP: We have gotten a lot of big things done: standing up for communities all across the state of Illinois including raising the minimum wage, paying the debts of the state, balancing the budget, getting us credit upgrades, creating jobs, managing through the COVID pandemic. I have been very proud to be an ally of the LGBTQ community since I was a young person and have carried on that commitment as governor. I have signed several pieces of legislation that are making measurable improvements for LGBTQ Illinoisans. Some examples include financial aid to transgender students who would otherwise be denied, requiring public schools to teach LGBTQ history, expanding infertility insurance coverage to include LGBTQ families, expanding Medicaid to cover gender affirming surgeries and so on. I am very proud of the record that I have had. I have always stood up for LGBTQ community members and I will continue to do so.
WCT: In what ways will you ensure that the Getting to Zero Illinois 2030 initiative comes to fruition should you be re-elected?
JBP: Getting to Zero does not happen unless you can access a clinic like Howard Brown and be able to afford it and make sure that we are providing the pharmaceutical medications that are necessary. That is something we have worked on already. I am going to continue to work alongside as an ally and also [be] a leader to make sure that we are accomplishing our plan. I think we will get there within the decade.
WCT: A number of LGBTQ-inclusive and reproductive-justice bills have been passed in the Illinois state legislature that you have signed into law over the past three plus years. Is there anything else you want to get done in terms of LGBTQ and/or HIV/AIDS issues and reproductive rights that has not been addressed through executive actions or the state legislature? Have you looked at what other Democrat-controlled states are doing regarding these issues that you want to adopt here in Illinois?
JBP: There is much more to do, and I intend to protect our trans community and our trans community of color, specifically, because we have seen that they have suffered so much. It is a matter of making sure that our law enforcement are aware our of how to interact with and protect our trans community. It is important that we make sure that trans health care is universally understood and universally available.
We have seen what they have done in Idaho and we are seeing what they are doing with reproductive rights now in so many states, literally trying to reach across state lines to either hold people civilly or criminally liable when they would come to an island of freedom like Illinois. We are looking at the Connecticut legislation. We think that we are going to have to tighten up some aspects of that legislation to make sure that we are protecting ourselves when the Republicans come after us and that is being worked on right now. With leaders like state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and others, we are going to get it done.
WCT: There is a push among activists and stakeholders to ensure that HB2542 (Illinois Name Change Modernization Act) is passed in either the veto or lame-duck session later this year. Do you support this bill? Why or why not?
JBP: Yes. It requires a supermajority to get this passed in the veto or lame-duck sessions. If we can get it done with the supermajority that is required, it would be done before the end of the year. Certainly it can be taken up in the regular session early next year. I think the votes are there.
WCT: What are your plans to keep Illinois a safe haven for LGBTQ people and people who can get pregnant other than already passed laws?
JBP: With the potential overturning of Roe, I think all of Illinois has awakened to the idea that things can go backward, just like they went forward with things like marriage equality. Things could get really rough if the wrong people are in office and or the makeup of the Illinois judiciary gets changed for the worse. I think protecting the gains we have made is very important as well as all the new things that we can do. That is one of the reasons why you have seen me be very vocal about Roe. I believe this is not just about Roe, it is about marriage equality and birth control and the list goes on and on. This concerns a whole panoply of privacy rights that we have all worked really hard on for decades and decades. My mother was marching for LGBTQ rights, the Equal Rights Amendment and women's reproductive rights in the '70s. And I was with her as a young boy. All of these protections could be rolled back. I am very deeply concerned about that right now and what we can do to advance the ball. Here in Illinois, I can say that to the extent that we can protect ourselves from the federal government's encroachment on our rights, I will be out front doing that.
WCT: Were you satisfied with the state government's response to COVID? Is there anything you would have done differently? Where do you see the state's role going forward?
JBP: No matter how well we may have done, the loss of 33,000 lives from COVID has had an enormous effect on me and my entire staff, our administration and state government. One example of something different we could have done is putting the mask mandate in place sooner than May 1, 2020. We were early compared to other states. There was some conflicting information from the CDC about whether masks would work and what kinds of masks to use. That is one example of where I look back and wonder where I could have done better. Among Midwestern states we are number one in getting shots in arms and keeping our mortality rate low. My goal was to keep people alive, healthy and safe. I worked every day at that and there is nobody in my administration who did not put in very long hours to accomplish that.
We have spent money to communicate our message about COVID through the All in Illinois campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated and I am asking everyone to keep doing that, including booster shots. We have sent mobile units and pharmacies to all of our nursing homes and long term care facilities to provide those shots right there where people live. Almost everybody in those facilities is getting their booster shots and we are working on the fourth dose right now. I think you are hearing now from the CDC and White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Jha is we are probably going to need to keep boosting. It will eventually be like getting a regular flu shot each year. It appears that the vaccines do work for almost everybody.
WCT: You have been focusing on balancing the budget and paying down Illinois' $4.2 billion debt (SB2803) since you took office. Now there is a surplus and the state's bond rating has reflected that positive turn. I know that you have released the fiscal year 2023 budget that allocates money for different initiatives. How will some of that money be spent to help marginalized communities and/or people who can get pregnant in the allocations your office outlined in the April 19 press release on the state's website?
JBP: The budget is a moral document and reflection of your values in the state and of the people who are elected. That is what this budget and all the budgets that we have passed since I became governor have done. They are not perfect, but they attempt to focus on marginalized communities and communities that have very often been left out and left behind to make sure that we are providing resources where people most need them.
We have been in this pandemic for over two years and during that time we provided rent and mortgage assistance to mostly poor and people of color populations across the state. We also worked to make sure that no one was getting COVID because they were homeless and that entailed giving money to organizations providing services to people experiencing homelessness especially Black trans youth and trans youth in general. This including housing for those who wanted it. It is my job to stand up not just for working families and for communities that so often do not get services and are often forgotten. About 25 percent of children in our state live in poverty and many of them are in Black and Brown communities. When I came into office I focused on lifting up precisely these people who got left out in the past due to the previous budget crises when so many services shut down. We expanded child care including for people who are looking for jobs. We increased the amount of child care available for people who make nearly 300 percent of federal poverty level. When I came into office, that number was less than 185 percent. The first bill I signed when I came into office was to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $15. That lifted a million people out of poverty in the state of Illinois especially women of color.
This current budget includes millions in funding to support the LGBTQ+ community. Some highlights include $110 million to IDPH's Office of Health Protection for expenses for to HIV/AIDS programs serving minority populations, including $25.5 million for expenses related to AIDS/HIV education, drugs, services, outreach to minority populations and related purposes as well as $10 million to IDPH for program expenses related to AIDS, HIV and the Getting to Zero-Illinois plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. We are allocating $15 million for Howard Brown Health, which provides affirming healthcare to LGBTQ individuals, for costs associated with construction of a new facility and $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements for Howard Brown's regional health centers. There are also a $485,000 grant for the Center on Halsted for costs associated with infrastructure improvements and $372,736 grant to the Chicago Parks Foundation for capital improvements to the AIDS Garden.
WCT: What things are proudest of during your term and what is your biggest regret? Is there anything you wish you could have done differently over the past three plus years in office? What did you want to accomplish that you have not gotten done yet. Do you plan on addressing these things during a potential second term?
JBP: I am proud of the fact that we saved thousands of people's lives during this pandemic. If we actually looked at what would have happened if Illinois had just been an average in the Midwest, the mortality stats show that 3,000 more lives would have been lost. We have gotten a lot done. When I think about the fundamental duty of a leader it is to protect people and save their lives and livelihoods during a national crisis. We have still more work to do. I held 188 press conferences on COVID during 2020 alone. I am proud of the work that we did.
Some of the other things include passing the largest infrastructure bill in the history of this state to rebuild our roads, bridges and airports which has not been done like this ever in our state. We did all of this with equity as its center so many more people of color are getting hired in trades and other positions, rebuilding our infrastructure. We added more than 130,000 people to Medicaid insurance rolls. There is now 50 percent more money in college scholarships for people to go to school in Illinois. It means now that everybody that applies for a scholarship from the state that is eligible now gets a scholarship which was not the case before. The scholarship covers about half of the total tuition costs. We also require by law that every senior in high school who is planning on going to college in Illinois has fill out the FAFSA so they can also get federal financial aid. Now Illinois is in the top five states for financial aid money. The result is college is vastly more affordable in our state and we are seeing many more people apply.
Before I took office, I met with former Gov. [Jim] Edgar. I wanted to get advice from various governors. I also talked to other governors around the country. Gov. Edgar told me to balance the budget and get one passed every year, which my predecessor did not do. He also said something that I will not forget which was you do not realize how fast the time goes when you are in the governorship until you get near the end so work fast to get everything done that you want to accomplish very quickly. His advice is one reason why I really have gotten a lot done.
We set a really big agenda in the beginning of my administration. I do not know if I would call this a regret but COVID made it harder to get even more things done. There is just every day and every week that goes by where I ask, "Is there something more I could have done?" It is more like a concern that I have that I carry with me every day.
I think COVID affected all of our mental health in some fashion or another. Nobody likes to be distant from people, wear masks and do all the things that we have done to stay safe. Even during the worst parts of COVID in the areas of the worst transmission rates I was out and about amongst the citizens of Illinois because I needed to tell people in that area in person the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing masks and so on. I especially remain concerned about the people whose health and financial well-being was so [negatively] affected by COVID.
My values have led me to fight for and deliver bold legislation that makes a meaningful difference in people's lives. Our administration has put Springfield on the side of working families and we are not done fighting for what we believe in. Through some of our state's darkest hours, I have led with conviction and compassion——providing strong leadership through tough times. In my first term as Governor, I have brought Republicans and Democrats together to achieve what previous administrations have failed to do: pass balanced budgets and improve our fiscal house. We have supported working families in every corner of the state by ensuring equal pay for equal work, codifying a woman's right to choose, launching the nation's largest small business grant program and ushering in a clean energy future we can all be proud of. I am delighted at how much we have been able to accomplish together in just three years, and remain committed to putting Illinois back on the right track. Throughout my life, I have taken on big challenges and delivered even bigger results, and if reelected I am determined to deliver even more historic progress for families across Illinois.
WCT: What is your overall message to every Illinoisan?
JBP: Our best days are ahead. We have accomplished an awful lot already. For me it has been all about fighting for working families, lifting up people who have been left behind. I feel there is unfinished business in that regard. Fighting for people's rights, making sure that we are securing them and also accomplishing our goals of balancing the budget, getting credit upgrades, making Illinois really the best state in the country. There are things that we can do to make it even better including families raising young children and being a tourism destination. We have a lot we need to do to expand education opportunities and health care access. Every day the focus for me are the people who are struggling and need a little bit or a lot of help to make their lives easier.
See jbpritzker.com .
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.