On Jan. 11, Pat Quinn appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general in the March 2018 primary:
Well, my name’s Pat Quinn. I’ve been governor of Illinois. I was also lieutenant governor and state treasurer. I live in the West Side of Chicago and I’m running for attorney general because I think we need a strong voice for everyday people, especially consumers. The attorney general is a lawyer for the people of Illinois and I’m a people person and I think it is important to understand the people of Illinois if you’re going to represent them and when it comes to taking on big corporations and big utilities and unfair insurance practices I think I have the best record over the years of taking those institutions on and winning for consumers.
Well, I started the Citizens Utility Board thirty-five years ago. We organized the referendum campaign for CUB, Citizens Utility Board, to take on Commonwealth Edison and Exelon and People’s Gas and Nicor and AT&T and all the big utilities. It’s hard for one person to take on a big utility but with the Citizens Utility Board, which is Illinois’ largest consumer group working with the attorney general I think we’d have a strong voice for everyday people when it comes to their utility rates and I think that’s one of the important issues of this race. I also think it’s important to have an attorney general that fights everyday for openness and honesty in government. I’ve stood for that all my public life and I think it’s important to make sure the attorney general is always on the side of the everyday people.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Illinois attorney general a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Pat Quinn submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: The Illinois attorney general has broad discretion in choosing the office’s priorities. What specific cause or causes would you pursue? Please avoid a generic topic or general category in your answer.
ANSWER: As the chief legal officer of the State, the Attorney General must enforce the laws and zealously pursue the public interest. If elected, my priorities will be as follows:
Integrity in State and Local Government. The Attorney General must constantly promote ethics and integrity in state and local government. I have pursued these objectives throughout my career and will continue to do so as Attorney General.
As Governor, I successfully advocated for legislation to raise ethical standards for elected officials, state employees and lobbyists; fought for and signed the strongest campaign finance reform legislation in Illinois history; strengthened the Freedom of Information Act and vetoed efforts to weaken disclosure rules; and instituted new whistleblower protections.
As State Treasurer, I proposed both the Illinois Whistleblower Protection and Reward Act, which incentivizes members of the public to report wrongdoing to the Attorney General, and the Inspector Misconduct Act which prohibits state inspectors from soliciting campaign contributions from persons they regulate.
As a Commissioner on the Cook County Board of Property Tax Appeals, I declined political donations from attorneys who practiced before the Board.
Before serving in elective office, I led a statewide petition drive that stopped a century-old practice that enabled legislators to receive their entire annual salary on their first day in office.
Consumer and Privacy Rights. As Attorney General, I will protect the rights of consumers. We need to ensure that utilities, insurance companies, financial institutions, platform monopolies and other business enterprises treat their customers fairly. This is more important than ever as industries have consolidated and many businesses have gathered great market power. I spearheaded the creation of the Citizens Utility Board, and am particularly concerned about ensuring that utility companies act in the public interest. I also will protect privacy rights, which are at serious risk as companies collect the personal information of their customers and share that information in ways that are not disclosed.
Criminal Justice Reform. The Attorney General must be a leader in improving the quality of justice in Illinois. Mass incarceration, wrongful convictions and unequal justice should be a concern of all Illinois citizens. I am proud of the fact that I signed the legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois, a penalty that was imposed repeatedly on innocent persons and inordinately on people of color. When I was Governor, to reduce a backlog of clemency requests dating from 2003, I acted on 4,928 clemency petitions. I granted 1,795 petitions, more than any Governor in Illinois history, bringing relief to people like Tyrone Hood who spent 22 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. I also issued an administrative order and later signed legislation to “Ban the Box,” prohibiting private employers and employment agencies from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until the applicant is determined to be qualified for the job, thereby helping ex-offenders secure employment and become productive members of society.
Healthcare. In 2013 I signed legislation to bring the benefits of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act to Illinois. The legislation dramatically expanded healthcare coverage to hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents and also brought $12 billion of federal funding to the state. As Attorney General, I will protect access to healthcare and hold accountable pharmaceutical companies and others who are responsible for the opioid epidemic which is harming families across Illinois.
Workers Rights. As Governor, I worked to protect the rights of workers including the right to bargain collectively, to expand job opportunities through increased training and education, and to increase the minimum wage. I will continue to advocate in these areas and utilize the tools available to the Attorney General to protect workers against wage theft and pregnancy discrimination. I also will vigorously enforce the Equal Pay Act which requires equal pay for equal work.
Environmental Protection. Article XI of the Illinois Constitution establishes the fundamental right of every person to a healthful environment. As Attorney General, I will vigorously enforce the environmental laws and advocate for new laws when necessary to address new threats to the environment. As Governor, I launched a $2 billion Clean Water Initiative to protect our drinking water, and I served as Chairman of the Great Lakes Commission consisting of eight states and two Canadian provinces. I also emphasized sustainability in all my decisions and greatly advanced renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Violence and Gun Safety. I favor a ban on assault weapons and a limit on high-capacity ammunition magazines. In 2014, G-PAC, the Gun Violence Prevention PAC, praised my “long and impressive record of support for common sense gun safety.” See further discussion below.
Protecting Immigrants. New to this country, immigrants are vulnerable in many ways, and particularly so since President Trump was inaugurated. I will join with other state Attorneys General who are working to protect the rights of immigrants and oppose President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. As Governor, I signed the DREAM Act, signed legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, and was the first Governor in America to return the Secure Communities program back to the federal government, which would have used Illinois law enforcement to act as federal immigration officers.
Human Rights. Everyone has a fundamental right to be protected from discrimination and harassment. When I served as Governor, I pursued and signed the landmark legislation establishing marriage equality. I also signed unprecedented legislation requiring schools to implement policies to combat bullying (including cyberbullying), and signed legislation to fight against human trafficking. As Attorney General, I will challenge unlawful discrimination whenever it appears.
Running for: Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general
Political/civic background: Governor of Illinois (2009-2015); Lt. Governor of Illinois (2003-2009); State Treasurer (1991-1995)
Occupation: Attorney at Law
Education: Northwestern University Law School (BS, 1971); Georgetown University School of Foreign Service (JD, 1980)
Campaign website: quinnforillinois.com
QUESTION: What would you do as attorney general to identify and combat public corruption at the state, county and local levels?
ANSWER: If elected Attorney General, I will zealously enforce the law. I proposed the Whistleblower Protection and Recovery Act to incentivize members of the public to report wrongdoing. I will never disregard credible allegations or evidence of wrongdoing. If I determine that current laws are inadequate to address misconduct, I will pursue new legislation like I did in the case of the Inspector Misconduct Act.
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QUESTION: Why have the people of Illinois had to rely solely on federal prosecutors, with little or no contribution from the state attorney general’s office, to do the job of rooting out local public corruption? Or do you disagree with this assessment?
ANSWER: What is important is that perpetrators of illegal conduct are prosecuted. Federal authorities often are in the best position to address corruption, given the substantial resources they have at their disposal. We have been fortunate in Illinois to have U.S. Attorneys who are committed to addressing corruption.
QUESTION: What is the responsibility of the attorney general’s office in supporting and enforcing federal laws and the policies of the Trump administration? Please be specific in identifying any laws or policies you believe should or should not be rigorously enforced.
ANSWER: I am most concerned that the federal government under President Trump has abrogated its responsibility to enforce important laws that protect public health, safety and welfare. When the federal government fails to meet its responsibilities, state attorneys general must step up to fill the void and pursue the public interest. For example, if the U.S. EPA fails to vigorously enforce the environmental laws, then as Attorney General I would use the tools at my disposal to prosecute polluters. At the same time, I do not believe that state attorneys general have an obligation to support or enforce unjust federal laws or Trump Administration policies. For example, I would not utilize the resources of the Attorney General’s office to enforce federal immigration policies.
QUESTION: Attorney General Madigan joined an amicus brief in a federal suit opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to cut off federal public safety grants to “sanctuary” cities. Would you have done the same? Madigan also has called on Gov. Rauner to reject any request by the Trump administration to use local law enforcement officers as “immigration officials.” What would you have done?
ANSWER: I support Attorney General Madigan’s actions with respect to the amicus brief, and would have taken the same action. I also agree with her position that local law enforcement officials should not be diverted from their core responsibilities in order to serve as adjunct immigration officials. As I mentioned above, I was the first Governor in the country to withdraw from the Secure Communities program, which would have used Illinois law enforcement to act as federal immigration officers.
QUESTION: What would you do to address the problem of gun violence? And if you say you would “take on” the NRA, how exactly would you do that?
ANSWER: As Attorney General, I will lobby the General Assembly to pass common sense gun laws (including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines), will intervene in federal lawsuits that seek to prevent states and local governments from enacting reasonable gun legislation, and will partner with law enforcement agencies to prosecute serious gun law violations. I opposed allowing the carry of concealed weapons and expressed strong opposition when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012 struck down the Illinois law banning the concealed carry of weapons. When the General Assembly passed a new bill to implement the Seventh Circuit decision, I issued an amendatory veto to narrow the bill in numerous ways, including reducing the size of gun magazines and limiting the number of guns that can be carried to one. I also vetoed the portion of the bill that prohibited home rule units from banning assault weapons in the future.
QUESTION: Everybody running for this office promises to be an advocate for ordinary people. What, in concrete terms, does that mean?
ANSWER: I believe that the Attorney General has a responsibility to assist victims of unlawful conduct who do not have the resources or the ability to seek redress or justice themselves. I embrace the idea that the Attorney General is the people’s lawyer, enforcing the law to vindicate the public interest and to halt wrongdoing. Whether the Attorney General utilizes the law to create precedents that can ferret out structural bad behavior or to help individuals or businesses who have been injured, he or she is fulfilling the mission of the office.
QUESTION: How in general would you follow or depart from the approach to the job taken by Lisa Madigan?
ANSWER: Lisa Madigan and I worked closely together to ensure a smooth transition when I became Governor. This was a particularly trying time in Illinois due to the ethical pall that had descended upon state government during the term of my predecessor which resulted in his impeachment. If I am elected Attorney General, my intention is to build upon her record. In particular, I will work aggressively to challenge actions of the Trump Administration that violate the law and also will work to address areas where the federal government under Trump has abrogated its responsibility to protect the public interest.
Check out our profiles on other candidates in this race: