SPRINGFIELD — Democrat J.B. Pritzker vowed that the state — despite its immense challenges — is not “broken” and offered jabs to his predecessor as he took office Monday to become the state’s 43rd governor.
With former Gov. Bruce Rauner seated in the front row on stage, Pritzker vowed he “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,” he said.
And he proclaimed that the state, despite its immense challenges, is “not broken.”
“No, Everything is not broken,”the state’s new governor said shortly after taking the oath of office at the Bank of Springfield Center.
It was a stark contrast to four years ago, when Rauner began his inaugural address by paintinga dismal picture of Illinois and calling on everyone to share in the sacrifice required to paint a new future for the state.
“We must accept the challenge and the sacrifice, knowing it will lead us to something greater,” he said in 2015.
Pritzker is now the richest politician in the U.S., his $3.2 billion wealth edging out President Donald Trump’s $3.1 billion, according to Forbes. And Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton has now broken an important ceiling in becoming the first African-American lieutenant governor in the state.
Stratton said the historic nature is not lost on her, but warned “there are still doors to open.”
“At 200 years old, Illinois is still a young promise,” Pritzker said in his inaugural address. “Our time here has been but a blink. In 2019, we must begin a new century with new maturity and enough foolishness to believe we can make a difference That starts with leadership that abandons single minded, arrogant notions.”
To big applause, Pritzker said the magic words: “Balanced budget.”
“Today, with all the challenges Illinois faces, Democrats and Republicans will work together, and we must begin with our most basic responsibilities. We will propose, debate and pass a balanced budget this year,” Pritzker said. “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 embracing hard choices.”
Pritzker, who has never held elected office, said he won’t be “naive” about what it will take to balance a budget. But he offered a warning, “if you lead with partisanship and scare tactics you will be met with considerable political will.”
The governor mentioned many of his priorities, including raising the minimum wage to $15, attracting jobs and businesses to the state, legalizing recreational marijuana and improving the criminal justice system.
Pritzker painted a picture of “possibility” and “promise” as the state continues to grapple with its many problems.
The 25-minute speech, which began with tales of heroism in Illinois’ past, did feature one gaffe. Pritzker incorrectly labeled a historic church ravaged by the Great Chicago Fire as he spoke of a pastor’s words of hope to devastated parishioners. The fire destroyed Chicago’s Second Unitarian Church, not the First Unitarian Church, which actually become a refuge for victims of the fire, according to the church’s website.
Just minutes after Pritzker’s address, the Illinois Republican Party quickly came to Rauner’s defense, saying, “it’s clear that Governor Pritzker’s agenda will be the same agenda that has dragged our state down for decades — borrow, tax, spend, repeat.”
Chairman Tim Schneider, too, warned that the party “will hold Pritzker, Madigan, Cullerton, and all Democrats accountable for their false promises because we know that they are the main culprits behind Illinois’ fiscal demise.”
But there were some words of encouragement from Illinois Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, who will actually have to work with Pritzker on a balanced budget. The Bloomington Republican told reporters lawmakers are willing to work together to bring the state back into stability.
As for Pritzker’s address and his emphasis on enacting a graduated income tax, Brady said he wasn’t “worried or offended by the rhetoric.”
“What I’ve told him clearly is that’s not a partisan divide,” Brady said. “It’s a philosophical issue. We Republicans believe that reducing the burden on families and business is more productive, more conducive to economic growth. He believes obviously, strongly the way that he does. But he’s been very clear that aside from that issue, there’s many issues that we can work together on. And I think he frankly would like to see some Republican ideas as he begins this administration.”
In the end, it was Rauner’s push for reforms over a budget that helped lead to his political demise. While he vowed a lengthy turnaround plan, he instead became known for his battles with political foe Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, and left to blame for the state’s longest budget impasse which amassed the state in billions of dollars in debt and decimated the state’s public universities.
Pritzker, buoyed by the $171.5 million he poured into his campaign, led an expansive, well-run statewide campaign. The heir to the Hyatt fortune, too, ensured his chances by starting his campaign in April 2017.
The ire of much of Pritzker’s criticism in an astounding 19 months of campaigning was, of course, Rauner. But the outgoing governor — unlike his predecessor Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn — attended the inauguration. Other Republicans in attendance included Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Brady, as well as other Republican legislators.
Incoming Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs also took their oaths of office.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza — who has joined a long list of those vying to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel — avoided some controversy by being sworn in by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rossana Patricia Fernandez — not Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, whose husband Ald. Ed Burke was charged earlier this month in an attempted extortion case. Justice Burke, a close friend, gave Mendoza the oath of office in 2016. WBEZ first reported the switch on Jan. 11.
Asked for comment on why Burke did not administer the oath, Illinois Supreme Court spokesman Chris Bonjean declined to elaborate, simply saying, “I hope the Sun-Times has better news judgement [sic] than that.”
Mendoza’s office, however, released a statement.
“I have deep admiration for Anne Burke, but I think it’s best to respect her privacy at this time,” Mendoza said. “I am in Springfield this week to welcome our new Governor and usher in a new spirit of cooperation for this state.”
Mendoza made no mention of her mayoral run in her speech.