For the first time in Illinois history, a Black person sits in the number two seat in the State Capitol. Juliana Stratton is our first African American Lieutenant Governor.
The Chicagoan and former Illinois State Representative (5th District) was sworn in as the 43rd Lieutenant Governor last week. In her inauguration speech in Springfield, Stratton noted her role in history: “On December 3rd, 1818, Illinois became the 21st state. 200 years later, with the DNA of my formerly enslaved great, great grandfather William Stephens as part of my genetic makeup, I am proud to stand before you as our state’s first Black Lieutenant Governor.”
Stratton told the Defender, “It is incredibly exciting. It has been 200 years since Illinois became a state and now entering into the third century” we have our first Black Lieutenant Governor.
While we don’t often hear much from the second-in-command of the state, it already seems as if Stratton will be different. She played a key role in the campaign of Governor JB Pritzker and he has called her his “partner” numerous times including in his inaugural address.
“JB has viewed me as a partner,” Stratton confirmed. “I will be viewed as a real partner…I want to do some creative and innovating things with the office of Lieutenant Governor….I want to place emphasis on making sure voices of communities that are often not at the table, Blacks and other communities of color…I want to make sure our voices are lifted up.”
Office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity
Stratton has proposed a new office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity, which she would lead.
She said it is significant that economic opportunity is included in any plan for criminal justice reform.
“Economic inclusion is the real path to strengthening communities; it is not just through programs. …When we think about criminal justice reform, we can’t have that conversation without thinking about economic opportunity. The lack of opportunity is what leads them to the justice system…and then when they come out of it, it is the lack of opportunity that leads them back; so we have to pair these two issues to address how we create real paths so that they don’t enter the criminal justice system in the first place, but secondly, when they exit our system, they are able to successfully integrate into the community.
“We need to make sure families have opportunity—access to capital, technical assistance; people in Black and Brown communities need to have money to grow businesses in their community.”
The inclusion includes procurement in the State. All businesses should have access to contracts with the State. “We need to make sure we’re not just doing the bare minimum,” the new Lieutenant Governor stated. “We need to be ambitious with our goals; we hear ‘we can’t find businesses we can contract with or subcontract with.’ We need to make sure we have businesses representing our communities.”
Stratton isn’t taking her office lightly. She said, “the Lieutenant Governor does play an important role. This person has to be prepared in the event something happens to the Governor…the Lieutenant Governor has to be prepared to step in. I look forward to supporting Governor Pritzker in his ideas as governor. We have a great partnership…and we like each other.”
A Real Partnership
Stratton said she met with Pritzker right around the time he was announcing his run for the top office in the state. She said the then-candidate wanted to hear from her as the 5th District Representative about her community.
“I appreciated that…anyone who wants to hear from a particular constituency, you have to talk to people directly….then when he asked me to be his running mate, I was thrilled. We had alignment on many issues such as early childhood education, criminal justice…I told him I would want to have a robust role in the administration and it was almost a no-brainer; he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In addition to the office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity, Stratton will be responsible for the rural affairs council. She says she enjoyed traveling the state throughout the campaign and meeting people throughout Illinois. She said many of the communities have the same types of issues. They want health care, access to jobs and economic opportunities. She said we need to also make sure the education system is strong.
Stratton shared that she “hopes to work very hard to draw parallels with these issues so all Illinois residents can see we’re more alike than different.”
One of the main commitments Stratton and Governor Pritzker have is “to make sure we pass a balanced budget” each year. Stratton recognizes that communities of color were hit the hardest during the budget impasse. Programs impacting violence prevention, mental health, early childhood education, job creation were the first to be reduced or eliminated. “The ripple effects are long standing,” Stratton added.
Stratton has been involved in public service throughout her career, which began at the City of Chicago. She worked at a law firm for a short while and then developed a mediation/alternative dispute firm, which she ran for more than 20 years.
“My heart is serving the public and trying to make sure we make life better for residents.”
The South Side native is a true Chicagoan; she’s lived here all of her life with the exception of a short stint when her father was in the Navy and her family lived in San Diego, California, and Washington State when she was very young. Stratton graduated from Kenwood High School, which is also her three daughters’ alma mater. In fact Stratton recalled that her first public office was as a part of the local school council at Kenwood. She chaired the council for three years because she wanted to advocate for quality education.
The University of Illinois—Champaign-Urbana and DePaul Law School graduate’s three adult children were helpful during the campaign. Stratton said it was nice to see them get more civically engaged and to understand why as millennials their vote is so important. Her daughters were able to get their friends involved too. “The next generation understands their vote matters and their voices matter,” Stratton commented.
When asked about her marital status, the positive-minded 53-year-old focused on her engagement to Bryan Echols, senior advisor to Illinois Treasurer. Now that the campaign is over the couple hopes to choose a wedding date soon. She said her fiancé has been “very supportive through this process…I’m glad he was by my side.”
Stratton acknowledged the support of her family in her inauguration speech and she also gave a shout out to the sisterhood that has lifted her up. She recently became a member of Chi Chi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and she has been involved with Jack and Jill of America as well as the Links Inc.
“When I think about the strength of sisterhood and the ability to do this work, I recognize it’s not just me….those surrounding me, lifting up my arms, supporting me and cheering me on..[that network] is important to anyone doing this work.”
Stratton is a natural connector and looks forward to connecting with the people of Illinois.
“I want to be as accessible as I can be as Lieutenant Governor. I recognize that there are communities that have grown weary of elected officials, those in government; they don’t feel like their community has been served well. I’m not going to sit here and say everything can turn around overnight; it takes a lot of focus. But I want to do the very best I can to make sure our communities are heard, that our voices are lifted up. It doesn’t mean the outcome will be what everyone wants. Half the battle is making sure you are a part of the process. It is important to me and it is important to Governor Pritzker.”