* A couple of reporters posted their full interviews with Gov. Pritzker, so I watched them and ran the audio through Otter for transcripts. Please pardon all transcription errors. Let’s start with some of what didn’t make it into the story filed yesterday by WTTW’s Paris Schutz…
PS: You were pretty forthright about consternation over this decision [to run] because of what your family is going through, some of these kind of out of bounds attacks. Was it a difficult decision to consider them and were they totally on board with another potential four years here?
JBP: They are totally on board. And I needed time to talk to them about it to make sure that that was the case. They’re actually excited. My wife in particular felt so much as First Lady to make people’s lives better. I’m pleased about the work that she’s done and she’s excited about the work ahead.
PS: And you’re not worried about some of the attacks that happened during COVID? I mean, I think any parent would think that’s kind of scary. You’re not worried about some of that stuff that happened continuing to happen?
JBP: Look, I’m always concerned about the safety of my children, about the attention, the unwarranted attention that they get. But they’re on board. They understand why this is so important for the state. So, we had a really robust conversation about it, but again we’re excited about the things that we can do for the state of Illinois, the things that I can do as governor. […]
PS: And so some of the criticisms on the right, again, because you rolled out [your campaign] with your handling of COVID, some of your opponents might bring up the LaSalle Veterans Home and the problems with IDES. Do you expect those to be criticisms that you will receive on the campaign?
JBP: I’m sure that there are critics on the other side of the aisle who want to raise these issues, but I will tell you one thing: The folks who say those things are the very same folks who did nothing to mitigate the pandemic. These are the folks who voted against the supports for families like expanding housing support, like expanding small business support across the state during the pandemic. We’ve had challenges, there’s no doubt about it during this pandemic. But every day I wake up and think about how do I make people’s lives better, how do I make sure that we’re doing everything we can. Despite this coronavirus that’s been killing people. How do we protect people’s lives and their livelihoods at the same time. […]
PS: Let’s acknowledge that CNBC has given some positive marks to the state’s business climate, ratings agencies have upgraded the ratings, but I still think businesses want to know about that long term picture, that pension picture. They want to invest here, they might want to hear from you, what are you going to do to finally get that long term solvency problem, the pension system under wraps?
JBP: Look, you don’t snap your fingers to fix these major long term problems that we’ve had for decades in the state. But you’ve seen that just in the last few years we’ve made real progress. We talked about two credit upgrades just in the last month. And the third one, that’s an upgrade in the outlook about our credit, which I think will lead to a credit upgrade. Remember, my predecessor presided over eight credit downgrades. So we’ve got to, you got to turn the ship and then you’ve got to make the ship run in the right direction. That’s what we’ve been doing. There’s more to do in that regard. We’ve also balanced the budget for three years in a row, we paid our pension payments, we’ve been doing what we need to do to fix the hollowed-out government that was left behind when I showed up in the office. So progress, real progress has been made. Let me give you a couple of examples on pensions that we can focus on. We did something that has not been done for 75 years it’s been tried, and that’s consolidating downstate fire and police pensions. Why is that important? It saves $10 to $20 billion for property taxpayers across the state. That’s a big deal. You can at least hold the line and lower property taxes for everybody. That’s something you got to be doing and that’s what pension reform in our police and fire pension system [has done]. One more thing, which is we’ve expanded the buy-outs of pension, people who are getting their pension, we’ve offered to buy them at a discount. So they get their money upfront, but we get the discount for the state. And that’s provided already a billion-four reduction in our debt. […]
PS: Can I ask you on the crime, that is something that the city of Chicago has been, not just the city of Chicago but other cities in areas in Illinois. You passed criminal justice reform, a lot of critics of the state’s attorney here say that that’s helping lead to more criminals out on the street. Is that true and what else do you need to do at the state level to tackle this problem in Chicago and Rockford and Peoria and elsewhere?
JBP: Well that criticism of criminal justice reform is just not true. What is true is that we’ve doubled the amount of funding for violence interruption and violence prevention programs in our state. Doubled, since I came into office. And in addition to that, we’ve got our state police working close in tandem with the US Attorney’s Office, with the ATF and other federal agencies as well as in Chicago and other cities across the state to make sure that we’re interrupting the flow of guns across the border from really all of the surrounding states to Illinois which have less stringent gun safety laws. So we need to do more in the state of Illinois, but we’ve also got to make sure that those guns stay out of our state.
* And let’s do the same with Mary Ann Ahern…
MAA: In your Twitter announcement yesterday, and maybe it’s just us being you know hypercritical, but we looked at it and said wow, there wasn’t any mention really of Chicago. There was a lot of, you know, across the state and Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois. Was it on purpose that you avoided the mention of Chicago?
JBP: Well you might be myopic and thinking only of Chicago, I know you’re a Chicago reporter, but the reality is that I represent the entire state. Chicago is a very important, very important part of our state, but it’s about 21% of the population of the state. And so I really have to have my eyes focused on every part of the state and that includes not just the city of Chicago and Cook County, but the collar counties and all of downstate. [Notice, he didn’t answer the question, but he also kinda did.] […]
MAA: Congressman Rodney Davis is sure starting to sound more like a candidate, and could have the backing of Ken Griffin who could match your money because otherwise you’re not going to be much of a player in this race, and already is talking about the veterans home deaths. That was a big issue for former Governor Rauner. 36 people died. Was there criminal negligence at that LaSalle home?
JBP: I think you need to step back and just take note that in the middle of a terrible deadly global pandemic, nursing homes were attacked by this virus. Any of the congregate settings across the state, this virus if it got in the door it ran rampant. And so this has been a challenge for private owners of nursing homes as it was for our veterans homes. I grieve for the families of the people who are lost. Not just those those in nursing homes but our veterans homes. My father and grandfather were both naval officers. I have a great deal of reverence for anybody that serves our country in that way and so I feel terrible. But you know that immediately upon learning of the challenges in the nursing home in the veterans home, not only did I demand transparency but also accountability. We had to identify who did anything that was wrong, and we had to hold them accountable. And as you’ve seen, we’ve actually let go, we’ve fired quite a number of people that were associated with that and leadership, and replaced them. And now we’ve got a terrific leader of our veterans in the industry, our Veterans Affairs Department in Terry Prince who came from Ohio and did a terrific job during the pandemic for them.
MAA: So there wasn’t a mistake to appoint someone with a political background? Even though she was a veteran, but more than someone who really knew how to run a veteran’s home. … She wasn’t, Linda Chapa LaVia wasn’t ready for that.
JBP: Look, if I knew then what I know now I might not have hired her. But here’s the thing, you know, she was the head of the Veterans Affairs Committee, they did the investigation into the Quincy veterans home. She is a veteran herself. I really thought that she would do a good job in that role, and it turned out that, that, you know that there were a lot of challenges in the Veterans Affairs Department. But you know I think we’ve made the changes that needed to be made,and I will say that our veterans homes are much better for the leadership that we now have. […]
MAA: What is the threshold to put those [covid] mitigations [back] in place? How many cases does it need to be at?
JBP: I think you’ve seen that we’ve used a variety of thresholds, including the positivity rate, including the numbers of cases. We’re watching very closely the hospitalizations, that is really the most important thing right now is how many people are going into the hospital and getting very sick and how many of those are going to ICU beds? And so we’re monitoring that across the state. It is always a difficult thing for me, I wake up every morning and I look at those numbers and when they’re rising, you know that’s a bad day. And I want to do whatever I can to mitigate that. So that’s included, making sure testing is widely available, making sure and making sure that the vaccines are widely available, and I’ll continue to do that and if we need to take stricter mitigations we will.