Democratic nominee for governor J.B. Pritzker attempted Wednesday to turn up the pressure on Gov. Bruce Rauner to take a definitive stance on whether he supports the Equal Rights Amendment.
“To Bruce Rauner, I have one question,” Pritzker said during a midday rally outside the Thompson Center. “You say you are for equal rights, so tell us: Are you for the Equal Rights Amendment or are you against it? Illinois women deserve to know.”
It was the second time in eight days that Pritzker has joined ERA backers to highlight his support for their cause — a sign Democrats think they’ve found a political issue that helps draw a favorable distinction between the two billionaire candidates.
The rally took place just hours after the measure passed out of the House Human Services committee on a party-line 7-5 vote on its way to an uncertain future in the full House.
Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the House sponsor of the constitutional amendment, said he does not plan to call it for a vote before next week and does not yet have enough support.
“I think we can turn the tide, and I think we’ll pass this, but it isn’t going to be easy,” Lang told reporters in Springfield.
Rauner has been sticking to a carefully worded script when asked about the ERA since Democrats moved last month to resurrect an issue that most believed had been left for dead more than three decades ago when Illinois failed to ratify the amendment by a Congressional deadline. (Democrats now contend the deadline was invalid.)
“I’ve made my position clear,” the governor has said on several occasions. “I support equal rights for everyone.”
But that obviously is not the same as saying whether he supports this particular proposal to codify equal rights for women into the U.S. Constitution.
Rauner has also pointed out the governor has no formal role under Illinois law in deciding whether the state approves a constitutional amendment, which requires a favorable vote from a three-fifths majority of both chambers of the General Assembly.
Pritzker said that should not prevent Rauner from using his position of leadership to help win its passage.
“Today I want to call on the governor to get off the sideline and finally, finally summon the courage to lead,” Pritzker said. “…Bruce Rauner should declare his support and ask members of his own party to step up and vote for the ERA.”
Pritzker was joined by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle who said it was “embarrassing” and “shameful” that Illinois has never ratified the ERA.
Democrats have clearly calculated that bringing up the ERA at this time puts Republicans, especially Rauner, in a tough spot.
For the governor, declaring himself in favor of the amendment would risk further alienating the conservative wing of the Republican Party that he is trying to win back after a divisive primary election against Rep. Jeanne Ives.
Conservative Republicans argue the ERA would open the way for government-paid abortions and co-ed prisons, which ERA supporters deny.
But openly opposing the ERA would hurt Rauner’s chances with women voters, particularly the suburban independent women who provided an important part of his winning coalition in 2014.
The state Senate already voted to ratify the amendment, passing it last month 43-12.
Democrats hold a 67 to 51 edge in the House. It takes 71 votes to approve a constitutional amendment. That means some Republican support is required for passage.
Rep. Steven Andersson (R-Geneva), an ERA backer, predicted Wednesday the measure will receive its share of Republican support when it comes to a vote.
But Democrats aren’t unanimously supportive either. At a recent hearing, Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) questioned whether the ERA would be beneficial to black women.
One of the speakers at the Chicago rally sought to address that concern.
“Too many people seem to suggest that the ERA amendment is a white woman’s fight, and I want to be clear that the ERA fight is for all women,” said Dorri McWhorter, CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.
Right now, that fight is in the Illinois House, and the question is whether Rauner wants a say in its outcome.