Lt. Gov. Stratton takes 'community-building' to state
‘I am proud to stand before you as our state’s first black lieutenant governor’
By Ted Cox
In Illinois, the post of lieutenant governor is frequently overshadowed by other statewide elected officials. But Juliana Stratton looks to change that.
Although Gov. J.B. Pritzker grabbed the headlines Monday with his inaugural address setting an ambitious agenda and emphasizing “a commitment to be kind in politics,” Stratton gave a stirring speech as well moments later after also taking the oath of office.
“I am proud to stand before you as our state’s first black lieutenant governor,” Stratton said, with a strong emphasis on the word “black.” She thus became the highest-ranking African American in state government in the 200 years of Illinois history.
Stratton began her address making a point of thanking the family members of Pritzker and other elected officials, adding, “I stand here today on the shoulders of my ancestors.” She said her “passion for public service” was driven by a sense of “collective responsibility in community-building,” adding that was literal in the case of her great-great grandfather, William Stephens, and his twin brother, Daniel.
According to a family history written by Stratton’s maternal grandmother in 1983 — and placed in the Bible she rested her hand on in taking the oath of office — the Stephens brothers were born into slavery. Granted land upon their freedom, they soon bought up more land and began leasing it to tenant farmers. They built up a complete community, including a school, church, and market.
“In lifting up others, it creates a legacy of opportunity for generations to come,” Stratton said, adding that she honored her great-great-grandfather’s legacy in community-building “every day of my life.”
Stratton said she visited Stephensville, Miss., last summer to “reconnect with my roots,” and she drew parallels between that community and the statewide community of Illinois.
“It centered me to the work that lies ahead,” she said. “Community-building is done when we refuse to let our narrow self-interest be the sole guiding force” and instead stress inclusivity and mutual respect.
“This is our community,” Stratton added, insisting that Illinoisans across the state have to listen to one another and “highlight our commonalities more than we seek out our differences.”
Stratton pointed out that Illinois might have almost 13 million residents, but “we are in many ways one community.”
She said the state’s representative government had too often failed to “represent us all” and must strive to do better.
“We must be compassionate to those in need and demonstrate benevolence toward the most vulnerable in our state,” Stratton said. “We are fighting to ensure that ever child has access to a quality education, starting with the earliest years and all the way through what should be affordable and accessible opportunities to vocational and higher education.”
A Bronzeville resident from the South Side of Chicago, Stratton was director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago before deciding to run against state Rep. Ken Dunkin three years ago.
Dunkin infamously broke ranks with Democrats on key votes during the two-year budget impasse between the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner.
President Barack Obama made a speech to the General Assembly in 2016 calling for compromise in politics.
“That’s right!” Dunkin yelled.
But Obama curtly told Dunkin to “sit down,” adding, “We’ll talk later, Ken.” Obama did his talking shortly after by endorsing Stratton in the 2016 Democratic primary, and she went on to defeat Dunkin with 68 percent of the vote. She was elected to the state House later that year, and the next year was tapped by Pritzker to be his lieutenant governor running mate.