Gov. J.B. Pritzker is officially seeking a second term in office and touting major spending initiatives for a potential second term.
The governor launched his reelection campaign Monday with a video on social media, touting his leadership of the state through the COVID-19 pandemic. But Republican opponents used the occasion to bash what they have called a “disastrous” tenure.
Pritzker had previously said he wanted to consult with his family on the decision to run for reelection because of the scrutiny they faced, especially his teenage children, from critics of his COVID-19 response. But Pritzker said they were all on board with the decision.
During a one-on-one conversation Tuesday, Pritzker said voters should look at what his administration accomplished despite the once-in-a-generation event that was the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We made great strides nonetheless,” Pritzker said. “Think about raising the minimum wage, lifting a million people out of poverty. We expanded health care across the state. We put people to work building roads, bridges schools, we put our fiscal house in order.”
As for a second-term agenda, the governor touted the same priorities that President Joe Biden and national Democrats have been pushing, such as expanded child care credits, universal pre-K and free college tuition for Illinois families earning up to the median income.
“Early childhood education and child care in our state needs to be expanded,” Pritzker said. “I think that everyone that’s certainly at the median income and below ought to be able to go to college for free.”
Pritzker was noncommittal on the prospect of once again pushing a constitutional amendment to institute a graduated income tax to bring in new revenue to pay for these initiatives, after a similar initiative failed last year.
“I’ve been all about lowering taxes for the middle class and asking the wealthiest to pay a little bit more,” Pritzker said. “And while we weren’t able to do that with the fair tax, we cut corporate welfare by $655 million in this last budget. That does a significant amount to reduce the structural deficit we have in the state and move some of that to paying for people to go to college and make sure we’re expanding child care and early childhood.”
Pritzker earlier this year dumped a staggering $35 million from his personal wealth into his campaign fund. There are three Republican candidates that have filed to run: state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Louisville, who took the governor to court over COVID-19 restrictions; suburban Chicago businessman Gary Rabine and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf.
All three took the occasion to slam the governor’s handling of COVID-19 and the resultant economic fallout.
“What I know is the economy of Illinois sits in shambles,” Bailey said. “We have small business suffering all across this state because he allows people to sit and continue to draw unemployment benefits when there’s lots of opportunities for jobs.”
“Governor Pritzker has raised taxes, increased spending, and signed into law some of the most radical, far-left legislation in the nation,” Rabine said in a written statement. “When Pritzker didn’t get his income tax increase, he raised taxes and regulations at a record pace to dominate the highest-taxed citizens in America.”
And in a written statement, Schimpf said:
“Under the Pritzker Leadership Deficit, he has failed to stand up to corruption, failed to protect our veterans and families, and failed to help overtaxed Illinoisans. In three years, J.B. Pritzker has demonstrated he has neither the vision nor the leadership skills to unite our state.”
But the governor says he took action to protect the state and set it up for a recovery when his critics advocated doing nothing.
“Those are the folks who voted against the supports for families, like expanding housing support, expanding small business support across the state during the pandemic,” he said.
Below, watch the full, unedited video of our one-on-one interview with the governor.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz