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Pritzker says look beyond his failures to his successes

Monday, Mar 22, 2021

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

I’ve given Gov. J.B. Pritzker some grief for his failures in the past few months.

His graduated income tax proposal went down in flames in November. He failed to pass his top priorities during January’s lame duck session of the Legislature. And his candidate for chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois lost to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly earlier this month.

What follows, then, is an edited-for-space transcript, with further reporting from me, of our recent interview on two of these topics:

Pritzker: “Rich, I think you’re forgetting an awful lot. Remember in the midst of a pandemic… because that’s where we’ve been, I stood up the largest rental assistance program in the entire country. The childcare assistance program that we stood up is now hailed as a model for the nation. This was the one we did in the midst of the pandemic, the one that my team, Theresa Hawley, Jesse Ruiz, the folks at ISBE, the folks in our Early Childhood Office of the Governor put together. Those are two examples of major programs. Don’t forget the Business Interruption Grants, which for many thousands of businesses helped them pay rent or pay utilities to keep their doors open.

“Those were things that I stood up during the last six months, and they’re enormous successes, the people who have been beneficiaries of those have been enormous successes.

“And then don’t forget over the summer I laid out criminal justice pillars. And look what happened with the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which did a tremendous amount of work and really deserve a tremendous amount of credit. But the pillars that I set out over the summer were worked on with them during the summer. And then, what do you know, that’s the bill that I signed, the Safe-T Act.”

It was Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford who led the Black Caucus’ efforts to pass their “pillars,” including criminal justice reform. Lightford told me that Sen. Elgie Sims and Rep. Justin Slaughter worked with the governor’s office on criminal justice reform before COVID hit.

“They continued to meet with the governor’s team after the George Floyd incident and of course the efforts grew as a result” Lightford told me in a written statement. “However, I created the Pillars.”

Lightford said “the conversations stopped” with the governor’s team after Pritzker released his “seven guiding principles” for criminal justice reform in early October. “We kept working and building out our pillar that included their points and additional items,” she said.

Pritzker’s list did have many of the items included in the final legislation. But claiming authorship might not be the greatest idea going forward.

Anyway, back to my interview with the governor:

Pritzker: “So we’ve had many victories. I think that when you’ve got a lot of goals, as I do, for moving the state forward, we’re going to win on a lot of them, we’re going to lose on some of them. But you keep moving forward. And I think the totality of the record has been one where a lot of progress has been made. I think I’m genuinely considered to be the most progressive governor in the Midwest, if not in the country right now. And Illinois has moved tremendously forward on the things that I campaigned on. I put a lot of policies forward while I was running, and we’ve accomplished almost all of them.”

Miller: “But, I mean, it’s kind of hard to overlook, though. The graduated income tax. It’s like a once in a lifetime thing that gets on the ballot. And then it didn’t pass.”

Pritzker: “I didn’t say overlook it, Rich. I think it’s a demonstration of my values that I put forward a very hard thing to get on the ballot, nobody’s been able to do that before. I know that the Senate president has been fighting for this for many, many years, and we were allies in trying to get this on the ballot and making sure that people understood it and so on. And the fact that it didn’t pass is frankly not something that I think I would point to. Instead, I would point to the fact that what we’re trying to do is change the way people are taxed in the state of Illinois so that middle class people and working class people pay less and wealthy people pay more. I don’t know who expected me to be the leader of that effort, but I can tell you that it’s something I fought hard for. And just because we didn’t win doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

44 Comments
  1. - Responsa - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:25 am:

    The governor is very defensive. Thank you for sharing this interview. It has been said by many people on this blog over the past couple of years that JB may have taken his win as a clear mandate for his progressive policies rather than stepping back to consider if he might have won mostly because people wanted not-Rauner. It appears he is still not considering that possibility. Very interesting.


  2. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:30 am:

    I think most IL voters will find that easy to do- assuming that they agree with him that those things are successes.

    Things like decoupling and DPI chair are barely a blip on most people’s radars. The Fair Tax was something else, but it’s over.

    COVID response, CJR, and- going back a bit- legal weed and infrastructure are much bigger deals to people. But, again, the question is, do people look at those things as successes?


  3. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:35 am:

    This is some great reporting, Rich.

    ===His graduated income tax proposal went down in flames in November.===

    While I have been critical about this too, at the end of the day it was the People of Illinois kicking themselves in the face instead of adopting a better and more adaptive tax system and at the end of the day we’re blaming the Governor for the fact that we, as in the collective People of Illinois, decided to kick ourselves in the face. Criticizing the Governor over the issue is kind of like asking him, “Why did you let us keep kicking ourselves in the face?” and the answer to the question is basically that we really wanted to keep kicking yourselves in the face.

    Some people were so upset at Mike Madigan that when a billionaire sent mail to their houses with pictures of Mike Madigan on them they voted to keep their own taxes higher, while letting the billionaire pay a lower effective tax rate than them. My angst over the failure of the amendment is basically that the Governor and his team shouldn’t have let that happen, that the Governor shouldn’t have let us kick ourselves in the face but at the end of the day we’re the ones tasting our shoe that we abruptly swung up to our face instead of adopting a much better income tax system.

    We’re frustrated with the Governor. We call that a failure. But imagine how frustrating it must be for the Governor and his team to get this amazing tax reform on the ballot to have us kick ourselves in the face and them blame him for not doing a better job of educating us or convincing us to not kick ourselves in the face.

    Our structural budget gap, our unfunded pension liability, our under funded, under staffed, and struggling state agencies, those didn’t happen to us by accident. We’ve spent decades kicking ourselves in the face while complaining about it, and apparently it is more difficult to convince us to stop kicking ourselves in the face than we thought.

    And here were are with our shoe print on our face, blaming the Governor for the fact we keep repeatedly kicking ourselves in the face.

    For all political purposes Governors very much own, but at the end of the day it’s the People of Illinois that are doing this to ourselves. I have been incredibly critical about this loss, and critical about how campaign funds were or weren’t spent, but that’s a completely different issue from the fact that at the end of the day I don’t like the fact that my neighbors and even some of my friends voted to have our foot swing full force into our face. No matter what Governor Pritzker did or does going forward, in the long run the People of Illinois are the ones that yelled “Madigan” and then kicked themselves in the face.

    But at least we didn’t re-elect Rauner, so thanks everyone.


  4. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:41 am:

    ==The governor is very defensive.==

    Is he? He was specifically asked about recent failures (which is an entirely fair question, to be clear). He was never going to say “You’re right, I’m terrible, I shouldn’t be re-elected.”


  5. - TNR - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:42 am:

    Not a great re-election kick off interview. Taking credit for the BC criminal justice pilar was a real unforced error. Why would he risk getting on bad paper with Lightford, one of his top legislative allies? Should give him pause about vetoing the map…that could get politically dangerous if Black members are happy with their districts. Alienating the Democratic Party base will hurt him far more than kissing up to the goo-goos and editorial writers will help him.


  6. - Horseshoe Voter - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:44 am:

    I consider the Fair Tax a likely casualty of COVID. It might not have passed either way, but the skeletal legislative session and the overwhelming focus on COVID mitigation took away the ability for the Gov to make the case for the Fair Tax as a piece of a larger solution to provide property tax relief, put some constitutional pension reforms in place (whether consideration, reamortization, integrating TRS into evidence-based school funding, and fixing Tier 2/implementing Tier 3), and pay down unpaid bills. Maybe they wouldn’t have gotten that together. But I was hoping.


  7. - Louis G Atsaves - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:46 am:

    The man drops $50 million on The Fair Tax provision that he advocated for in Springfield and then expresses wonderment that he was expected to be a leader of that effort? He lead the effort. He funded it. He put key election staffers in charge of it.

    Unreal.

    Now let’s talk some more about the IDES problems that persist in spite of his leadership, or lack thereof. Why did I receive a notice that I applied for unemployment from my own firm and why am I waiting three weeks now for a call back from the Pritzker administration.

    Unreal.

    People remember how shabbily they are treated by Government when they personally make contact with an agency. Jesse White was forced to live down shabby treatment when he first inherited the Secretary of State’s Office, yet now that he has rectified the lion’s share of past shabby treatment, there are people who still dread contacting the Secretary of State’s office.

    That should be the true lesson this Governor should have learned by now. A lesson I learned years ago through my long time association with the late Senator Adeline J. Geo-Karis, who stressed constituent service like it was a religion.

    A lesson lost on this Governor.


  8. - Too cute by half - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:56 am:

    The pillars thing almost made me spit out my coffee. He’s claiming credit for writing those? Wow.

    Less shocking but equally iffy is his emergency rental claim. No state dollars were dedicated to that, and it was only after IHDA’s exec went to the Governor’s office and explained how bad a pandemic could get when a quarter of your state is made homeless that they released the CARES act funds for ERA/EMA.


  9. - OneMan - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:57 am:

    == I would point to the fact that what we’re trying to do is change the way people are taxed in the state of Illinois so that middle class people and working class people pay less and wealthy people pay more. I don’t know who expected me to be the leader of that effort ===

    To quote the old Vulcan saying, “Only Nixon could have gone to China” Governor.


  10. - good luck - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:58 am:

    I find it incredibly refreshing that the Governor is willing to admit he has made mistakes.Of course he has - he’s human and running a state is not something that any one can be perfect at.
    Rauner never did that.
    Quinn never did that.
    And Blago certainly did not.


  11. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 9:59 am:

    We can’t look beyond Pritzker’s failures but can use them to judge his performance, along with his successes. The former president brought good fortune to the governor, following the graduated income tax defeat: the GOP loss of Congress and the presidency. That brings Illinois the federal bailout that would not have happened with GOP control of DC, so probably no need for a state income tax hike in the immediate future.


  12. - Roman - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:19 am:

    Until someone shows me a poll that says something different, it seems Illinoisans are happy with the way he’s handled the pandemic, so he should highlight that. But taking credit for the BC criminal justice bill? Weird. He’s developing a knack for alienating his fellow Dems by stepping in to things he probably shouldn’t and screwing up (Senate prez, cannabis legislation, state chair.) That’s a bad habit.


  13. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:23 am:

    Pritzker seems to have a level of character and integrity that we have not seen in other, recent, wealthy politicians like trump, rauner, and Loeffler. There are very good reasons they all failed in their reelection bids and low character and integrity are among them.


  14. - Double Dipped - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:25 am:

    Uncle Joe rained money on us . But w/o pension reform it’s hopeless even when he gets the graduated income tax which Is inevitable.


  15. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:28 am:

    JB at least admits to being the most liberal Governor in America but is stunned he is at 41% approval.

    Reading the room is not a strong suit of his


  16. - Fav Human - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:31 am:

    then expresses wonderment that he was expected to be a leader

    Kind of says it all…..

    IDES

    The failures here are his biggest problem. Lots of people had this happen to them, or their friends or family. Personal experience with bad government, and worse, a leisurely response to the problems


  17. - Ducky LaMoore - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:32 am:

    “w/o pension reform”

    They already tried stealing pensions. Tier 2 has been in effect since 2011. There is almost nothing left to reform.


  18. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:32 am:

    === But w/o pension===

    Friend, this isn’t Facebook. Driveby silly to “pension reform” is the angry in-law uncle who still complains about ridiculous stuff after the election.

    === I consider the Fair Tax a likely casualty of COVID.===

    It wasn’t.

    The Fair Tax Flop was predicated on wasting time, losing messaging, and the equal footing money that the last push was able to push their own idea like The Frerichs Tax, taxing retirement income. They got flat beat.

    === It appears he is still not considering that possibility.===

    (Sigh)

    It’s always about 60/71 and 30/36…. signing what’s passed by the GA allows the governor to dictate his own take to “progressive”

    That’s a lesson Rauner never learned… 60/71, 30/36

    That the ball game.

    The losses of the Senate Prez, State party chair… the man put $35 mil in the coffers. Pritzker can go alone.


  19. - levivotedforjudy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:34 am:

    The graduated tax was a loss for him. But to be fair, he has only had one full, normal session cycle. Even the one right now is abnormal and you have to navigate in this post-MJM era. The pandemic has hijacked most of what he wanted to do after a great first session cycle. Now, they need to put some non-pandemic points on the board (ethics reform, environment/CEJA, etc..). He has time.


  20. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:39 am:

    ==It’s always about 60/71 and 30/36…. signing what’s passed by the GA allows the governor to dictate his own take to “progressive”==

    Yes. What’s missing in the discussion of JB’s legislative accomplishments is that there was just a ton of pent up policy in the legislature, waiting for Not Rauner to sit in the Governor’s office and approve it. That makes it a little inaccurate for JB to take credit (though that’s the game, “Governors Own”, and ultimately Dem legislators won’t be unhappy that he gets the credit). But it also makes claims that he was claiming a mandate he didn’t have silly. He just wasn’t getting in the way of the legislature. And the voters keep sending these beefy progressive majorities to the GA.


  21. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:41 am:

    ==Reading the room is not a strong suit of his ==

    Strong enough that he recognizes that break-even approval ratings is more than enough for a Dem to get elected in IL.

    I know that that drives you crazy. It’s nonetheless so.


  22. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:45 am:

    ===Reading the room is not a strong suit of his ===

    The room is supermajorities in both chambers, no need to worry about the state party, let them “figure it out”, sign legislation that puts his own agenda in play with tens of millions of dollars… maybe against an angry Trumpkin who can’t read a state that has rejected that thinking, statewide, already.

    Can’t beat someone with no one.

    So far… no one is running.


  23. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 10:54 am:

    ===Unreal.===

    And yet, here we are blaming the Governor for our decision to kick ourselves in the face.

    As a body politic we need to work on taking ownership for our decisions at the polls. We didn’t get here on accident.


  24. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:01 am:

    Liberalism defined perfectly

    JB wants credit for his good intentions, not his results which are pretty lackluster if you believe his approval rating

    Incapable of learning from his mistakes or taking responsibility for failing to restore trust in Illinois government

    No buck stops here sign on his desk that’s for sure


  25. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:06 am:

    ==JB wants credit for his good intentions==

    This isn’t at all supported by the quotes in this article. He explicitly points to results. He never mentions “good intentions”.

    This is like Twitter defined perfectly: you invented a person, then got mad at them.


  26. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:07 am:

    === Incapable of learning from his mistakes or taking responsibility for failing to restore trust in Illinois government

    No buck stops here sign on his desk that’s for sure===

    Rauner tried to quit after his failures, moved to another state, and still tried to “blame Madigan”… as you did too. I can show you where.

    It’s the big chair. At 41-41, Pritzker is owning his good and bad, according to polling, but your lack of honesty to things clouds the reality.


  27. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:14 am:

    ==No buck stops here sign on his desk that’s for sure ==

    I mean, I guess so, because we’ve seen pictures of his desk and one isn’t there, but again, this isn’t supported by the text. JB isn’t blaming anyone else for his failures, he’s just pointing to his successes. I get why that drives you nuts. You don’t want to see JB defend himself. But he’s going to, and you’re not doing yourself any favors by continuing to set the goalposts at “JB must endorse Bruce Rauner in the ‘22 Gubernatorial election”.


  28. - SLoop - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:27 am:

    Pritzker’s greatest gift (other than being born a billionaire) has always been his opponents. I would bet that saves him in 22.


  29. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:29 am:

    ===his opponents. I would bet that saves him in 22.===

    Thing is, with that victimhood thinking, who exactly thinks they can beat him, and that thought be true to that?

    Bailey?

    C’mon.


  30. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:32 am:

    == w/o pension reform ==

    About the only legal pension reform that is still on the table is deciding to pay the pension debt off by 2035 as scheduled (which likely requires lower spending and a higher tax rate than current) or deciding to pay the pension debt off over a longer period of time at a cheaper annual cost but higher overall cost. Pick your level of fiscal pain.


  31. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:33 am:

    As the the rest of the article, JB hasn’t done great, but he hasn’t been a complete disaster. Sometimes that is the best you can hope for.


  32. - Blake - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:43 am:

    The part about calling himself the most progressive governor in the Midwest is a mistake. The most popular governors are seen as moderate & he could be a lot more popular with decisions closer to the median Illinois voter. Having the structural advantage of the state’s voters usually giving most of their votes to his party should not be used as an excuse to make decisions that will cause him to underperform Duckworth & Mendoza in 2022.


  33. - Sloop - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:44 am:

    - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:29 am:

    ===his opponents. I would bet that saves him in 22.===

    Thing is, with that victimhood thinking, who exactly thinks they can beat him, and that thought be true to that?

    Bailey?

    C’mon.

    I have no idea what that means.

    Bailey, Schmipf.. Whichever right winger that gets out of the now fully radicalized GOP base will be a far greater asset to Pritzker’s re-elect than any of his actions in office.


  34. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:45 am:

    === The part about calling himself the most progressive governor in the Midwest is a mistake. The most popular governors are seen as moderate & he could be a lot more popular with decisions closer to the median Illinois voter.===

    Narrator: Popular and Progressive mean two different things.


  35. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 11:48 am:

    ==Pritzker’s greatest gift (other than being born a billionaire) has always been his opponents. ==

    Well, and the fact that his party usually starts out each hole hitting from the Women’s Tees in Illinois.


  36. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 12:08 pm:

    === Uncle Joe rained money on us . But w/o pension reform it’s hopeless even when he gets the graduated income tax which Is inevitable.===

    We did pension reform over a decade ago.

    What’s hopeless?

    Why is graduated income tax inevitable?


  37. - 17% Solution - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 12:12 pm:

    == This is like Twitter defined perfectly: you invented a person, then got mad at them.==
    Also the perfect definition of a straw man.


  38. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 12:44 pm:

    === Bailey, Schmipf.. Whichever right winger that gets out of the now fully radicalized GOP base will be a far greater asset to Pritzker’s re-elect than any of his actions in office.===

    LOL, friend, that’s not saving him, that’s saying no credible candidate can run, win, then defeat the governor.

    Victimhood is predicated that Pritzker has all the breaks, the reality is you can’t be someone with no one.


  39. - May Soon Be Required - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 1:15 pm:

    Authorship or not the bigger challenge lies ahead for the Governor with the funding of the four pillars and the ongoing budget negotiations
    .
    However, You can’t beat somebody with nobody.


  40. - Disappointed Female Suburban - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 1:32 pm:

    If Rodney Davis gets in, he will give Pritzker a run for his money.


  41. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 1:34 pm:

    === If Rodney Davis gets in, he will give Pritzker a run for his money.===

    Rodney voted twice not to impeach Trump, is pro-life, and voted against Covid relief in 2021.


  42. - Ducky LaMoore - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 1:59 pm:

    “As the the rest of the article, JB hasn’t done great, but he hasn’t been a complete disaster. Sometimes that is the best you can hope for.”

    Ryan, Blago, Quinn, Rauner. That should be enough of a point of reference to see how successful JB actually is.


  43. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 2:06 pm:

    ==If Rodney Davis gets in, he will give Pritzker a run for his money. ==

    Davis will run a credible campaign, and not embarrass ILGOP. Not every candidate can say the same. But a downstate, pro-life, conservative Trump chair is going to have an awful lot lot of problems.


  44. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 22, 21 @ 5:28 pm:

    == Ryan, Blago, Quinn, Rauner. That should be enough of a point of reference to see how successful JB actually is. ==

    Both Ryan and Quinn were competent administrators as Governor.

    Conceded, Ryan went to jail for his prior actions at SoS.


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