Pritzker takes oath as 43rd governor: New video!
Governor sets ambitious agenda with attitude that ‘a commitment to be kind in politics can change the world’
By Ted Cox
SPRINGFIELD — J.B. Pritzker was sworn in as the 43rd governor of Illinois Monday, setting an ambitious agenda with the attitude that “a commitment to be kind in politics can change the world.”
Pritzker set out to establish a completely different tone from that of the man he replaced, Bruce Rauner.
He didn’t minimize the state’s problems, which include a backlog of billions of dollars in unpaid bills and a crushing shortfall in pension obligations estimated at more than $130 billion. But he began by drawing parallels between the state’s damaged position and Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, saying, “We find ourselves at such a moment now.”
Pritzker suggested that many of those problems were self-created, and emphasized that “our abdication of responsibility must end,” adding, “That starts with leadership that abandons single-minded, arrogant notions.”
There were times the Democrat threw serious shade on Rauner, sitting nearby, whom he defeated by 15 percentage points in November. “No,” he said, “everything is not broken,” as if to answer Rauner’s charges that state government was dysfunctional and mired in corruption.
Even so, he reached out to Republicans, promising to work on bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems.
“We will propose, debate, and pass a balanced budget this year,” he pledged. “It won’t be easy, but let’s confront this challenge with honesty. Our obligations as a state outmatch our resources. Our fiscal situation right now is challenging. And the solution requires a collective commitment to embrace hard choices.
“But be clear about this,” he immediately added, “I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering. I won’t hollow out the functions of government to achieve an ideological agenda. I won’t make government the enemy and government employees the scapegoats. Responsible fiscal management is a marriage of numbers — and values. Which is why it’s time to start the earnest work of creating a fair tax system here in Illinois.”
In addition to advocating a progressive income tax, accompanied by additional reforms in sales and property taxes, Pritzker set his sights on a capital spending bill on state infrastructure, the legalization of marijuana, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and a commitment to science to address climate change and preserve the environment.
Although his speech began by drawing parallels with the Great Chicago Fire, he reached out to the entire state, promising to “bring a renaissance to downstate Illinois, which has been deprived of some basic resources for education and business building that are taken for granted elsewhere in our state.” That would begin, he said, with providing high-speed broadband internet coverage “to everyone, in every corner of Illinois.”
He also pledged to support public education and hinted at expanding it to pre-kindergarten, “recognizing that students do best in community schools where teachers are paid well and where kids start learning at the earliest ages.”
Saying, “The seemingly dry acts of government really do affect the richness and joy of our lives,” Pritzker pounded home the theme that government can do good if it’s as good as the people it represents.
“I see the natural beauty of Illinois every day — in our people. More than anything else I see it in our capacity to be kind,” Pritzker said. “A willingness to be kind is a virtue often overlooked in life,” he added. “A commitment to be kind in politics can change the world.”
Here are some video highlights from his inaugural address.
Thousands attended the inauguration ceremony for statewide elected officials at the Bank of Springfield Center near the Capitol, including top Democratic and Republican politicians from across the state.
Pritzker got firm support from Comptroller Susana Mendoza. After she took the oath of office to begin another term, she warned, “We should never, ever confuse kindness with weakness.”
Although Pritzker held back on criticism of President Trump, making reference only to “leaders who sacrifice truth for personal gain (and) who substitute pageantry for patriotism,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul did not, making thinly veiled references to how he would “block misguided federal policies that violate our citizens’ rights” and “oppose federal attacks on our values,” thus “holding the line against leaders who ignore the law in our Constitution.”
Raoul promised to take on the “opioid and heroin epidemic” and the increasingly widespread and “unconscionable” problem of gun violence, saying that, while it might have put Chicago in the national spotlight, it “has now spread to every community in our state from Waukegan to Cairo.”
State Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, newly appointed the House majority leader, applauded Pritzker’s commitment to bipartisan solutions and to government reforms including rooting out waste and inefficiency.
“There are going to be a lot of tough decisions we’ll have to face to bring our state back, to fill in the holes the last administration left, and to get us back on the right path,” he said. “We’re going to deliver, and we’re also going to … work across the aisle so that Republican and Democrat views are brought in and that we work together.”
The governor and the state’s new first lady, M.K. Pritzker, attended an inauguration celebration at the State Fairgrounds’ Exposition Building in the evening. They had their first dance to a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is.” Maroon 5 was the surprise headliner.