Jesse Ruiz, a prominent attorney and community leader, announced Wednesday that he is running for Illinois Attorney General.
“I became an attorney so I could use the law to protect and defend others, and be able to step in when people need a champion,” Ruiz said in a video campaign announcement released Wednesday. “For too long, many of us have felt forgotten and let down by our government. As Attorney General, I will use all of the powers of the law as a shield – and if necessary, a sword – on behalf of everyone in Illinois.”
The son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz has been a strong advocate for the rights of minorities throughout his legal career. He said that Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrant and minority rights motivated him to run for public office.
“Donald Trump launched his campaign by saying, ‘When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Ruiz recalled. “When I heard those words, I got angry. He was talking about my parents, and about the millions of hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding Mexican immigrants who came to this country to build new lives for themselves and their families. I feel that I would dishonor my parents if I failed to do everything I can to resist Trump and to put the law on the side of people who work hard and play by the rules.”
In his announcement video, Ruiz (52) talked about growing up in the working-class Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. “I learned so much – like the value of hard work and determination, and that if you have enough to eat, you have enough to share.”
Ruiz attended Marist High School, on Chicago’s Southwest Side – a commute that required taking three different CTA buses. To pay his way through college, Ruiz worked a number of different jobs, including stints as a sales clerk, a machine operator, a meter reader, and a handyman. “As I was growing up, my parents made sure I knew the value of hard work and determination,” Ruiz said. “The Attorney General’s job is to be the champion of hard-working people, and I will make sure everyone’s rights are protected – in the workplace and in the marketplace.”
After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in economics, Ruiz spent four years working in the steel industry before entering law school at the University of Chicago.
While in law school, Ruiz took a seminar class on racism and law taught by then-faculty member Barack Obama. Ruiz became one of Obama’s earliest political supporters, knocking on doors with Obama and hosting one of his first fundraisers in his race for the Illinois State Senate. Years later, he worked as a volunteer on Obama’s presidential campaigns.
“As a teacher, Barack Obama always encouraged students to challenge everything, to stand up for what they believed in,” Ruiz remembers. “His example is even more important today, when so many of our nation’s fundamental principles are under attack.”
Ruiz is a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, a nationally renowned law firm, where he has worked for more than 20 years. He also serves as President of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners.
A tireless volunteer, Ruiz is best known as an advocate for public education. He served over four years as Vice President of the Chicago Board of Education and in 2015 stepped in to become Interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appointed Ruiz to serve on the U.S. Department of Education Equity and Excellence Commission, a post he held for two years. Previously, Ruiz served nearly seven years as Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
As the head of ISBE, Ruiz took prompt action when a school district refused to enroll an undocumented student, in violation of federal law. In an unprecedented action, Ruiz led ISBE to cut off the school district’s state funding. The very next day, school district backed down.
“I want to serve as the people’s lawyer,” Ruiz said. “As Attorney General, I will work to bring the power of government back to the people of Illinois. I will fight back whenever our government goes too far – whether that means standing up against Donald Trump’s assaults on our civil rights or speaking out against Bruce Rauner’s radical agenda here in Illinois. Every day, I will work to make Illinois a better, safer place – for all of us.”
Ruiz and his wife, Michele Ilene Ruiz, met when they were both law students at University of Chicago. Ms. Ruiz is now a partner at Sidley & Austin. The couple live on the south side of Chicago with their two young sons.
Campaigning against Obama in his home state? That’ll work.