By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – The Illinois AFL-CIO needed to get behind a candidate for governor early to kick-start its challenge to Governor Bruce Rauner, and that chosen candidate, J.B. Pritzker, went a long way toward justifying that leap of faith Aug. 31 in Belleville.
Pritzker told a big crowd at Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council Awards Dinner that it’s time for Illinois to be led by a governor who will build up the state instead of tearing it down and who will put people to work instead of watching jobs slip away.
“It is time to put working people first, working families first,” he said. “I can promise you, we’re going to do that.”
Rauner’s tenure so far has been one self-manufactured crisis after another, leaving no room for looking ahead, Pritzker said.
“We need to think about what the future of this state is,” he said. “What are we going to do over the next 20 years to make this state truly as great as it once was, and a state that we all will be proud of?
“Today we’ve got a governor who badmouths this state. All across the country, they listen to this governor and think, ‘Well, there’s nothing great about Illinois, there’s nothing good here.’ But you know what? Illinois has the most educated and dedicated workforce in the country. It is truly a terrific place for people do business and create jobs.”
Under Rauner, Illinois has dropped to last in the nation in its credit rating and in education funding, Pritzker noted.
“Bruce Rauner has accomplished both of those things,” he said. “He’s got to go.” The crowd vocally agreed.
A CALL TO ARMS
Before Rauner spoke, Illinois AFL-CIO President Mike Carrigan explained how the organization arrived at an early endorsement of Pritzker when several worthy candidates are running in the Democratic primary next March.
“What we’re fighting is a guy named Governor Bruce Rauner,” Carrigan said, noting that Rauner will not have a serious primary challenger. “We’ve been battling him for two years and nine months, and I’m telling you this is a bad guy. This is a guy who is just out to reduce the Labor Movement to nothing. Everybody in this room would be out of business. It’s all about pushing down wages, destroying benefits, destroying unions.
“It’s a call to arms, people,” Carrigan added. “There is no normal. There are no days off. We are fighting. We are fighting for the Labor Movement and we are fighting for our families. We need each and every one of you. No union is big enough to go alone. We’ve got to martial our resources, we’ve got to get together and get all on the same page.”
So the Illinois AFL-CIO executive board interviewed all of the candidates and had them fill out extensive questionnaires. A second round of interviews followed and then a five-hour meeting in which to make a decision.
“We needed to decide who the Labor Movement was going to get behind, and we got behind J.B. Pritzker,” Carrigan said. “I saw a humble man. I saw a man who said, ‘I don’t know everything, I’m going to need a lot of advice, I’m going to need a lot of help.’ ”
Pritzker’s performance since then has more than justified the choice, Carrigan added.
“Day after, week after week, I’ve seen him up and down this state,” he said. “This is a man who can stand toe-to-toe with people and talk to them. He’s very warm and very friendly. He just constantly reinforces that we made the right decision.”
Pritzker, who was in the midst of a six-day, 22-stop bus tour around the state, laid out the bare bones of his five-point plan to bring new jobs to Illinois:
• INFRASTRUCTURE – Rebuilding railroads, highways, bridges and more is long overdue, he said. “It doesn’t just create jobs for those building those buildings or building those roads or rails, it creates jobs because businesses will want to be in Illinois when we’ve got great infrastructure,” he said.
• SMALL BUSINESS – Small businesses – entrepreneurs with big ideas –create two thirds of the state’s new jobs, but without much help from the state, Pritzker said. “No one’s standing up for them,” he said. “The state of Illinois ought to be standing on the side of people who want to start a business and people who are building their small businesses.”
• HIGHER EDUCATION – Illinois’ public universities need to be supported, in part to keep tuition reasonable and avoid long-term student debts, and community colleges must not be swept to the side, Pritzker said.
“We’ve got make sure we’ve got vocational training in our high schools so the kids can graduate and get jobs, and then we’ve got to invest in our community colleges,” he said. “For people to retain jobs and stay in jobs, lifelong learning is incredibly important.”
• AGRICULTURE – Rauner has ignored or even diminished agriculture support and education, for one thing trying to zero out funding for ag education in each of his budgets, Pritzker said.
“Agriculture is truly the number one export in this state, the number one industry,” he said. “It’s something that often gets forgotten by people who become governor. They ask people for their votes all across the state, and then ag gets left behind. We need to stand up for agriculture education.”
• MANUFACTURING – In trying to attract or keep large manufacturers, the Rauner administration has not been helpful to smaller manufacturers capable of generating new jobs, Pritzker said. “There are lots of small manufacturers in this state who just need a little bit of promotional help to sell our products all over the world, and the state can provide small business loans using federal programs,” he said.