On Jan. 11, Aaron Goldstein 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:
My name’s Aaron Goldstein. I’ve been an attorney for 17 years. Most of my career I’ve been a public defender. I started out after I left law school working for the public defender’s office. Then I went into private practice for about six years and now I’m a supervisor at the public defender’s office. While I was in law school I worked for the Legal Assistant’s Foundation as well as with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. In addition I ran for 33rd Ward Democratic Committeeman in 2016 against Dick Mell and I defeated him.
I have several priorities but really it’s an approach and it’s about being proactive. So, what I’m proposing is a bold, progressive agenda with three important planks. Number one is to fight the interests, which is the big banks, the big corporations and standing up to Donald Trump. Number two is real criminal justice reform and that has several planks to it as well; number one, end mass incarceration, stop the drug war and end cash bail. So I’ve been working in the public defender’s office to stop that in Cook County and we’ve just about gotten there but throughout the state we have to get rid of cash bail. And the fourth part of criminal justice reform is police accountability and I’ve proposed that the community have involvement in that police accountability in that consent decree that Lisa Madigan has requested. The third part of that is fighting corruption, so I will propose and I will start a public integrity bureau whose sole purpose is to fight corruption.
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. Aaron Goldstein 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: I will take a bold progressive approach to the Attorney General’s office. First, I will stand up to the big powers–taking on the big corporations, big banks and Donald Trump’s policies that hurt and disrupt Illinois. As Attorney General, I will be vocal and fight every illegal action Trump takes–whether it’s the Muslim ban, his deregulation of environmental protections, his attacks on immigrants and DACA recipients or his withdrawal of federal oversight of the Chicago Police Department, I will take him to court every step of the way.
Second, I will achieve real criminal justice reform. There are four pieces to this: ending mass incarceration, ending the racist drug war, eliminating cash bail, and achieving real police reform.
Third, I will fight corruption in our state and local government. When I become Attorney General I will form a public integrity bureau whose purpose will be to fight corruption.
Running for: Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general
Political/civic background: 33rd Ward Democratic Committeeman
Occupation: Attorney Supervisor, Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office
Education: B.A., (Political Science) University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), J.D. University of Iowa, College of Law
Campaign website: ag4ag.org
QUESTION: What would you do as attorney general to identify and combat public corruption at the state, county and local levels?
ANSWER: The first act I will take as Attorney General is to form a Public Integrity Bureau, whose job it will be to investigate corruption. Combating corruption will be a priority and I will investigate all credible claims of corruption, regardless of political party. I will advocate to give more power to the Attorney General’s office to fight corruption but in the meantime will investigate corruption, prosecute it where we can, and work with local and federal prosecutors to combat corruption.
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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: This assessment is accurate and it’s a shame. While I am not running against Attorney General Madigan, it is hard to overlook the fact that the Attorney General’s office has done nothing to root out corruption. I have no ties to political powers and took on the machine (and won) so I will have no problem investigating and prosecuting corruption. As a committeeman, I spoke out against their practice of requiring endorsed judicial candidates to contribute $40,000 to the Cook County Democratic Party. (See, https://chicago.suntimes.com/opinion/democratic-party-practice-nothing-but-a-quid-pro-quo/)
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: The Attorney General has no obligation to support or enforce any policy of the Trump administration. The duty of the Attorney General is to enforce the law, and most importantly the Constitutions of the United States and Illinois. If the Trump administration makes an executive order or some policy that violates the Constitution, it is my duty as Attorney General to go to court and challenge that action. For example, the Muslim ban should be challenged because it is a clear violation of federal law and the Constitution. Sanctuary cities and states are frequently debated and any city as well as the state can choose to not use local resources to enforce a federal enforcement priority. As Attorney General I will go to court to defend a city or the state’s decision to prioritize their resources how they see fit as long as it complies with the law and the Constitution. Finally, when the Trump administration refuses to enforce environmental protection laws and regulations (or other regulations), I will step in and fill that void.
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 would have joined that suit opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to cut off federal public safety grants to “sanctuary” cities. I also agree with Attorney General Madigan’s call on Gov. Rauner to reject any request by the Trump administration to use local law enforcement officers as “immigration officials”.
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: Gun violence is the result of a multitude of reasons and as a society, we need to address all those issues to rid our communities of gun violence and all violence. We need to fully fund our public schools, eliminate income inequality, achieve racial justice, reform our criminal justice system, etc. However, the Attorney General is in a unique position to combat gun violence by working with local and federal law enforcement to stop the influx of guns into our state. But my plan for “taking on” the NRA is exactly that. I believe we must go after the gun manufacturers. Similar to tobacco litigation, we must find appropriate cases in which to sue gun manufacturers for their accountability in this gun violence. I have proposed this in many venues and will work on putting together a case once I become Attorney General. I will also advocate for the elimination of federal immunity for gun manufacturers but I will look for opportunities to go after them in their role in this senseless violence.
QUESTION: Everybody running for this office promises to be an advocate for ordinary people. What, in concrete terms, does that mean?
ANSWER: In order to know if someone will be an Attorney General who will be an advocate for ordinary people, we must look at what that attorney has done their whole career. As an attorney, I have spent my career representing individuals unlike my opponents who spent their career as corporate attorneys or prosecutors. Most of my clients are poor—without a support network to turn to and usually I am the only one who is standing for them. I know what it’s like to represent a client whom I represent their only hope. So, my career has been about representing the underrepresented. I am not taking money from big political powers or big corporations so I will not have any conflicts of interests. Every issue that comes before me as Attorney General will be handled putting the people of the state of Illinois first instead of political benefactors and big corporations.
QUESTION: How in general would you follow or depart from the approach to the job taken by Lisa Madigan?
ANSWER: Attorney General Madigan’s tenure has been competent but cautious. Attorney General Madigan has not addressed corruption in this state and has only recently addressed police accountability while not addressing other aspects of criminal justice reform. As Attorney General I will accomplish a bold progressive agenda that achieves real criminal justice reform and addresses government corruption while taking on the big powers.
Check out our profiles on other candidates in this race: