Attorney general candidates discuss reform, ethics

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Illinois Attorney General candidates participated in a forum held Thursday, Feb. 22 at the James R. Thompson Center. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times

With less than a month before Illinois residents head to the polls for the March primary, candidates for attorney general gathered for a forum at the Thompson Center on Thursday.

It was a fairly tame two hours. With WGN Political Analyst Paul Lisnek moderating, and all eight Democratic candidates present — Scott Drury, Sharon Fairley, Aaron Goldstein, Renato Mariotti, Pat Quinn, Kwame Raoul, Nancy Rotering and Jesse Ruiz — there were few outbursts.

Republican candidate Gary Grasso was also part of the forum. Each laid out their positions on topics ranging from what role they believe the state’s top lawyer should play to the health problems at a veterans home in Quincy, to how they’d go after impropriety in state agencies.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn, touting his record of trying to set term limits and the creation of the Consumer Utility Board, said he’d be the “champion of the people.”

“The attorney general has to be the lawyer for the people, and the people want honest government,” Quinn said. “I think the attorney general has to be a strong consumer advocate. It’s important for the office of the attorney general to be independent, free from conflict of interest.”

The candidates focused on the topic of conflicts of interest, trading barbs as they called each other out for taking campaign donations from special interest groups or utility companies.

Quinn called out Raoul, Ruiz and Rotering, who took money from utility companies, saying it would be difficult for them to be more independent.

“I have a 13-year record and have accepted contributions from a range of individuals,” Raoul said of legislation he helped create and pass. “Not once have those contributions determined how I vote.”

Rotering said Quinn’s comments were the “height of hypocrisy.” Raoul and Ruiz felt the same.

Though the candidate’s stances were similar on many of the issues, they split on what the attorney general should focus on.

Goldstein, Grasso, Drury and Mariotti said the office should focus on corruption within the state and restoring the trust of Illinois residents in the government. They all said the attorney general needs to be an advocate for the people, but Goldstein and others said they’d do that by being the advocate for the people and trying cases against the federal government, which is going after immigrants in the state, as well as agencies that are shirking the law.

Others pointed to the state’s need for criminal justice reform and the need to support legislation and offices that will help make the state safer.

As for dealing with impropriety if elected, as well as the attorney general’s full slate of other legal issues, the candidates all said transparency, and educating citizens on the role of the office, goes hand-in-hand with supporting legislation for gun reform or police accountability.

“The duty is to the state of Illinois and to the constitution of Illinois and the United States, those are the only duties that the attorney general has,” Goldstein said. “The attorney general can stop [bad legislation] at the pass and follow the constitution and defend the people first and foremost.”

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