Elected in 2018, Governor Pritzker could not have predicted his term would be filled with a global pandemic, racial unrest, and more. The Chicago Defender spoke with the Governor as he reflected on his term and looked to the future as he launched his official re-election campaign.
Chicago Defender: Your first term was filled with unprecedented moments. How do you feel about your administration’s handling of these events?
Governor Pritzker: Well, there’s no doubt that no one could have imagined that we would have to fight a deadly global pandemic. When I ran for governor four years ago, I said I wanted to take on the big challenges in our state and put Springfield back on the side of working families. I think we’ve done that even despite the fact that we’re we’ve been fighting the pandemic. And, you know, that pandemic continues. So, we have more work to do. In the meantime, as you know, we’ve accomplished quite a lot to provide vaccines to everyone who wants to get vaccinated, to make sure that people know how important it is to get vaccinated. Early in the pandemic, we were one of the earliest states to provide widespread testing, so that people if they thought they might have COVID, they could find out nearly immediately. In general, focusing on the health and safety of our residents has been my number one priority.
We also raised the minimum wage lifting hundreds of 1000s of people out of poverty, we expanded health care coverage which meant that people who got sick with COVID could get free testing and free treatment. It also meant that more than 100,000 people across the state received health care coverage.
We put more people to work by fixing roads and bridges and schools and making sure that we’re lifting up the communities of color and the communities that have been left out and left behind for decades, if not centuries.
Chicago Defender: Your administration decided to focus on equity during your term. What does Illinois need to do to create a more equitable society for its residents?
Governor Pritzker: There’s so much more to do but I am proud of what we have accomplished. Right now, about 50% of black students, attending universities in our state can go to school tuition-free, which is a big accomplishment and advancement. That’s the beginning of what we need to do. I think that everybody that wants to go to college that earns a median income or less, should be able to go to college for free. We need to do a lot of work to make that happen but that’s the direction we are going.
For more than 20 years Illinois has been a national leader in early childhood education however, often black, and brown communities have not been able to access or participate in quality, early childhood programs. During my administration, we’ve significantly grown our investments in that. I want to make preschool universal, and childcare more accessible. Again, there are so many things we need to invest in, to make it easier, particularly for communities of color. But I would just say more broadly, for people who have been challenged for so many years, I really believe that it’s the role of our government to lift up the communities that have been left out. I’m going to continue to do that because equity is an important part of what I do.
One of the reasons that we were able to make the advancements we have is because when I put my administration together, I made sure that we had the most diverse administration in the history of the state. Every day in my office black and brown people are running departments and aspects of our government that they’ve never run before. My focus is to make sure we are doing the right thing for our communities and to make sure we have the right people in the right positions.
Chicago Defender: It seems we are more divided than ever now. How do you plan to bring the state together to get much-needed work and legislation done?
Governor Pritzker: I’m proud of what we’ve already gotten done; raising the minimum wage, expanding health care, the massive infrastructure bill that we passed in the state of Illinois, in 2019, and making college more affordable. There were all things we were able to do in a bipartisan fashion. I’ve tried very hard to reach out across the aisle across some of the political divides, that exist, to make sure that we’re working together on the big problems that face our communities, but sometimes the Republicans don’t want to work together or choose not to participate. I’m willing to work with anyone. We must sit down and hammer out our differences however, I’m not willing to wait around forever.
Chicago Defender: As you reflect on your first term, what is one of the most surprising things you learned?
Governor Pritzker: I think I did not anticipate the pandemic being politicized. I didn’t anticipate that. One of the lessons I learned is to expect the unexpected. It was strange to face political opposition for something as rational as following science and listening to doctors.
I also learned that we must continue to reach out, talk to people and educate them about what’s best for their families and communities. We must invest in our communities with resources, social services, community development, and investments to help prevent violence and lift up communities.
Chicago Defender: As you launch your re-election campaign, what is your vision for the State of Illinois?
Governor Pritzker: I’ve always focused on lifting families across our state, particularly middle-class working-class families and those who need just a little bit of help. I really believe that the government can just give a little bit of a boost to families and families need to lean on the government at times. I’ve tried very hard to focus on what we ought to be doing and to continue to move and make progress in that direction. Kitchen table issues matter most to me. If I’m re-elected, two things I really want to accomplish are universal early childhood education and affordable college in the State of Illinois. I think that everyone should be able to send their kids to preschool and everyone ought to be able to go to college whether they can afford it or not. In Illinois, anyone earning a median income or less ought to be able to go to college for free. Those are just two examples of things that I want to do. But, again, we have so much work to do to invest in our communities to make sure that people are able to prosper and, and to reach their full potential.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on social media @DanieSanders20 or @DanieSandersOfficial.