On Jan. 11, State Sen. Kwame Raoul 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 is Kwame Raoul. I’ve been a practicing attorney going on 25 years. I’ve been in the Illinois State Senate for 13 years. Having chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee for the last 9 years, also chaired the Senate Pensions and Investment Committee and Redistricting Committee prior to that. I’ve sponsored a broad range of legislation including criminal justice reform with the highlight being the abolition of the death penalty. I’ve served on the Criminal Justice Reform Commission, the Sentencing Policy Advisory Commission. I’ve chaired a conference committee on pension reform. I’ve worked on workers’ compensation reform. I’ve worked on a broad range of issues, I expanded Medicaid so we can fully take advantage of the Affordable Care Act, I’ve worked on a comprehensive law enforcement reform bill and I look forward to taking that experience to the attorney general’s office.
So my priorities will be multi-faceted. First off, I think one of the oft ignored functions of the attorney general’s office is to direct victims’ resources. One of my priorities will be to make sure that the most victimized communities are recipients of those resources. I actually sponsor legislation to pilot trauma recovery centers because I realize that we have neighborhoods where violence has been normalized and for kids and other residents of those neighborhoods they’ve suffered a trauma that has been uninterrupted. Violence begets violence. The other function that I would focus on is the public access counselor. I actually sponsored the legislation creating the public access counselor in the attorney general’s office but the reality is they are so overwhelmed with claims that they are not processing them fast enough. I would make sure that the public access counselor will be appropriately resourced. Finally, the other priority that I would focus on, I would call it the Trump defense priority. Whether it’s banning together with other attorney generals to fight the effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act. To make sure that we are protecting students who can fall victim to sexual assault on campuses. Fighting against the rollback that Betsy DeVos has put on Title Nine protections. I would make sure on all these fronts that we look after our immigrants who are contributing to our society. I would make sure that I as attorney general would be the first line of defense against 45.
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. State Sen. Kwame Raoul 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: Having sponsored the legislation that created the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s Office, I plan to properly resource the office so as to eliminate the backlog in FOIA and Open Meetings Act complaints. Long delays in responding to such complaints from the public and the media defeat the purpose of having a dedicated Public Access Counselor and frustrate the intent of the legislation: to improve the transparency of government and allow sunshine to deter corruption.
Another of my priorities as Attorney General will be responding quickly and effectively to allegations of labor law violations. As a sponsor of legislation to expand the Workplace Rights Bureau, I will adequately staff this division in order to handle complaints of wage theft, failure to pay prevailing wage, employee misclassification and other violations by corporations against their workers.
Third, as Attorney General I will continue the work I began in the General Assembly on criminal justice reform. I will use the office’s bully pulpit and my role as an advocate to urge passage of common sense provisions related to sentencing, probation and parole, bail and bond, juvenile justice, expungement and rehabilitation programs. I will work in my new role to maintain Illinois’ progress away from just being tough on crime and toward being smart on crime by giving second chances to nonviolent offenders, cracking down on repeat gun offenders and appropriately focusing the resources of the corrections and justice systems.
Running for: Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general
Political/civic background: State Senate (2004-present); delegate to Democratic National Convention (2008, 2012, 2016); board member, International Child Care; board member, Legal Prep Charter School; advisory board, Youth Guidance – Becoming a Man program; steering committee, American Heart Association – Counsel for a Cause
Occupation: State Senator; partner, health law practice, Quarles & Brady
Education: Chicago-Kent College of Law (J.D., 1993), DePaul University (B.A. in Political Science, 1987)
Campaign website: kwameraoul.com
QUESTION: What would you do as attorney general to identify and combat public corruption at the state, county and local levels?
ANSWER: I believe that the number one deterrent to public corruption is sunshine. That is why I helped secure passage of legislation creating in statute an office under the Attorney General – the Public Access Counselor – to expedite responses to Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act complaints. Members of the media and the general public should be able to access all information to which they are entitled as quickly as possible so elected officials can be held accountable and so voters and taxpayers understand what governments are doing with their authority and money.
FOIA is a powerful tool, but only to the extent that government bodies comply with it. One of my top priorities as Attorney General will be assuring that the Public Access Counselor is appropriately staffed to respond quickly and accurately to FOIA requests and complaints. The first step in combating public corruption is making sure the existing powers of this office can be exercised to the fullest extent allowed under law.
Currently, the Office of the Attorney General is not authorized to impanel a grand jury. Once I ensure adequate staffing of the Public Access Counselor’s division, if the legislature does not see fit to expand the grand jury powers of Attorney General, I will seek out additional means of using my role to deter and oppose public corruption, which degrades public confidence in government, discourages the civic involvement of talented people motivated to serve the public good and wastes taxpayer dollars. I would create more specific mechanisms for cooperation between my office and local prosecutors in order to access their grand jury powers in collaboration with them. Wherever appropriate, I will collaborate with federal prosecutors.
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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: It is difficult to assess the extent to which this is the case, because customarily, such cooperation with federal and state authorities occurs privately. As Attorney General, I will inform myself about existing channels of cooperation and critically assess how well they are working and whether there are ways in which my office can better contribute its resources to the cause of investigating and prosecuting allegations of public corruption at the local level. However, the reality is that federal authorities are often better equipped to handle many of these cases. I will advocate for the expansion of the Illinois Attorney General’s grand jury powers to the extent that the General Assembly is prepared to make available the funds necessary to allow the Attorney General’s office to aggressively, effectively pursue corruption cases, recognizing that statutory powers and tools are only as good as the resources devoted to their use.
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 office of a state attorney general has become a position of heightened importance during the Trump presidency because this administration in particular has aggressively sought to roll back policies that protect the legal and constitutional rights of ordinary people living in Illinois and throughout the country. Whether independently or in concert with attorneys general of other states, the Illinois Attorney General must be prepared to combat this administration’s attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act by eliminating insurance subsidies and related regulations, roll back protections for students victimized by campus sexual assault and student loan fraud, weaken penalties for nursing homes where patients are put at risk, end guaranteed fair access online and expose voters to attacks on their privacy and potentially discriminatory voter roll purges through the Crosscheck database. I will sustain Illinois’ involvement in ongoing multi-state lawsuits against the federal government and will stand ready to defend the rights of Illinois residents whenever they are put in jeopardy.
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: As a child of Haitian immigrants, I am sensitive to the mistreatment of immigrants, particularly “Dreamers” and those fleeing oppression, who are making a contribution to our society and economy. The time and resources of local law enforcement officers are occupied with fighting crime and protecting residents; they have neither the capacity nor the training to also act as immigration officials, nor should they be put in this position. To the contrary, they should be empowered to build trust within the communities they serve in order to more effectively prevent and solve crimes. I agree with the current Attorney General’s decision to join with other parties throughout the U.S. to stand up for local governments that are essentially being bullied by the federal government for directing their law enforcement agencies to focus on their appointed tasks and not to act beyond their training and resources. I also join with the current Attorney General in calling on Gov. Rauner to reject federal requests to use local 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: I would use the Attorney General’s bully pulpit to call for policies that target gun trafficking, and I would follow the lead of New York’s attorney general, who used firearm tracing data obtained from federal law enforcement to learn more about the pipeline by which guns were entering that state from other states and being sold for use in crimes. We already know that a large minority of guns used in crimes in Illinois are trafficked across state lines rather than originally being purchased in-state, where gun regulations are stricter than in several of Illinois’ neighbors. While many are focused on assault weapons, and while I do support banning these types of firearms, it is important to note that the vast majority of crimes are committed using other kinds of guns, including handguns; trafficking, not just bans, must be part of the violence reduction strategy.
We cannot solve the problem of gun violence and illegally obtained guns alone. Illinois must engage with local and federal authorities and with other states to trace guns, cut off pipelines of illicit trafficking and hold accountable those who are intentionally trafficking guns to individuals not authorized to possess them.
I have a strong record of filing and passing pieces of legislation the NRA considers to be unacceptable restrictions on gun ownership, and while I have been willing to work with anyone of any party who shares my goal of reducing gun violence, I am proud of this record. I was active in passing the gun dealer licensing bill out of the Senate and will continue from the Office of the Attorney General to advocate for passage of similar legislation.
QUESTION: Everybody running for this office promises to be an advocate for ordinary people. What, in concrete terms, does that mean?
ANSWER: There are people living in this state who are not empowered, who are not reaping the benefits of equal protection of the laws and who are not able to protect themselves as consumers, crime victims, sexual assault victims, domestic violence victims or taxpayers. There are also many Illinois voters who have lost faith in our system of government, who rightly demand greater openness and access. As Attorney General, I can step into these gaps as advocate – in court, vis-à-vis the General Assembly and in the public square. The Attorney General is uniquely positioned to protect consumers from excessive utility rates, from excessive fees charged by financial institutions, from workplace rights violations, from fraudulent schemes and from the often-overlooked second victimization following a violent crime: unaddressed, lasting trauma. The office is also tasked with enforcing the transparency of government meetings and records. It would be an honor to work for all the people of Illinois in this capacity, building on my career of advocacy in the courtroom and in the Illinois Senate.
QUESTION: How in general would you follow or depart from the approach to the job taken by Lisa Madigan?
ANSWER: Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been a strong advocate for consumer protection, and I would uphold her record in this area. I would also continue working with attorneys general of other states in order to more effectively protect Illinois residents from corporate abuses against consumers and from federal overreach.
I would more aggressively exercise the advocacy influence of the office. However, for criminal justice reform to be successful, I would expand on the previous legislative accomplishments of me and my colleagues. I would also more meticulously track the distribution of crime victims’ assistance monies to ensure that the most heavily victimized communities are in receipt of a majority of these resources. I would bring to fruition the pilot trauma center program I pushed for in the General Assembly in order to address the trauma stemming from the violent crime that ravages already under-resourced communities. Evidence shows that untreated trauma feeds the cycle of violent crime when violence becomes normalized in a community and victims are disproportionately likely to become the next perpetrators. I believe we must follow where this evidence leads and establish policies that do not merely respond to gun violence, but prevent it by addressing its underlying causes.
Check out our profiles on other candidates in this race: