SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — J.B. Pritzker, the multibillionaire whose actions over the past year suggest he may be eyeing a run for president, was sworn in Monday as Illinois governor for the second time, an occasion the Democrat used to issue bold proposals for universal preschool and free college tuition.
Catapulting off the financial successes of his first term — including the conversion of mounds of state debt into a $3.7 billion surplus — he declared, “It’s time for Illinois to lead.” He called his plans “as ambitious and bold as our people are, thinking not only about the next four years, but about the next 40.”
“I propose we go all-in for our children and make preschool available to every family throughout the state,” Pritzker said. “It’s also our obligation to make college more affordable by removing financial barriers. … Let’s focus on making tuition free for every working-class family.”
He did not elaborate on the proposals, which also include child care options that would allow parents to work or go to school.
Pritzker, who turns 58 this month, is the first Illinois governor to start a second four-year term since 2007, when Democrat Rod Blagojevich took the oath. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in 2009 and later went to federal prison for political corruption. No governor has served two full terms since Jim Edgar left Springfield in 1999.
During his reelection campaign, Pritzker leaned on his record of whittling down government debt, credit-rating agency upgrades and bolstering the state’s “rainy day” fund. He defeated Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey with 55% of the vote.
Bailey was one who took notice of Pritzker’s possible look beyond the Land of Lincoln, beseeching the governor in two televised debates to join him in signing a pledge to serve a full term if elected. He was reacting to Pritzker’s summertime trip to the early presidential primary state of New Hampshire and his raising millions of dollars for Democrats nationwide. Pritzker has said he has no plans to run and supports President Joe Biden for reelection.
But in his Election Day victory speech, Pritzker appealed to a broad constituency, barely mentioning Illinois while indirectly lambasting former GOP President Donald Trump, who will seek a second term in 2024. The prairie state governor criticized Republicans for failing to “treat the disease” and letting it fester into “insurrectionists tearing down the doors of the U.S. Capitol.”
Pritzker revived that sermon in his inaugural speech, warning against “a rising tide of hate.” He postulated, “Old evils will always find new haters to bring them back to life. Yesterday’s Father Coughlin becomes today’s Tucker Carlson.” He was comparing the Fox News commentator to the Rev. Charles Coughlin, whose wildly popular 1930s radio commentary was laced with antisemitism, embraced some policies of Nazi Germany and derided President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
“Their message is amplified by elected officials or political grifters who look to harness the tremendous power of hate for their own ambition,” Pritzker said. “They pledge allegiance to our nation with one hand and then usher in the means of its destruction with the other.”
Pritzker, an equity investor and philanthropist whose family founded the Hyatt Hotel chain, is the nations 310th richest person, with a net worth of $3.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
In 2018, he was swept into office largely on voter dissatisfaction with then-GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, whom they blamed for a two-year budget stalemate with Legislative Democrats that stalled state services and flooded account books with red ink.
Pritzker has overseen paying down a mountain of debt, including $17 billion in overdue bills to vendors at one point. He steered the state through a rocky bout with the COVID-19 pandemic, signed laws to eventually eliminate carbon-generating power production and increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2025. And to the delight of Democrats, he stood fast against restricting access to abortion and called Monday for constitutional protection. This prompted the advocacy group Illinois Right to Life to decree that abortion violates the constitution’s due process clause.
As in his first term, there seems little in his way. Republicans’ hopes of winning a partisan majority on the state Supreme Court in November’s election fizzled, with Democrats increasing their majority to 5-2. In the General Assembly, there seems no limit to the extent of Democratic control.
After Wednesday’s inauguration of members of the General Assembly, Democrats control two-thirds of all possible seats. The 78 Democrats in the House is a record since the chamber’s size was scaled back in 1983 — and as a percentage of all seats, virtually equals the number they won with President Lyndon Johnson’s landslide in 1964. Although they lost one seat in the Senate, the party has controlled at least 40 of the upper chamber’s 59 posts since Pritzker arrived in town.
Only one statewide officer inaugurated Monday is new to the job. Alexi Giannoulias succeeds Jesse White as secretary of state. White served six terms — half of his 48 years as an elected official. Giannoulias was state treasurer from 2007-2011.
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton joins Pritzker for a second term, as does Attorney General Kwame Raoul. Treasurer Michael Frerichs took the oath for a third term and Susana Mendoza begins her second full term as comptroller after she won a 2016 special election to replace the late Judy Baar Topinka.
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