Illinois Attorney General Democratic nominee: Kwame Raoul
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Democrat Kwame Raoul is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the Illinois attorney general race.
On Sept. 18, Raoul appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Watch the video above to find out why he hopes to be chosen Illinois attorney general in the 2018 general election.
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board also sent the nominees for Illinois attorney general a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Raoul submitted the following answers to our questionnaire.
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.
Raoul: 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.
I will prioritize protecting children from sexual abuse, including through online predation. The strong relationships I have developed with Illinois’ state’s attorneys will serve this purpose well as my office works with them to offer the investigative and prosecutorial resources needed to bring to justice any criminal who targets children. As a father, I know our children can no longer be assumed safe when they are at home; physically, they may be sitting in the living room, but online they’re in chat rooms where they may encounter child molesters, pornographers, traffickers and other predators. The attorney general administers the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties, and I will use this position to work closely with local law enforcement and prosecutors, helping them keep up with changing technology and advocating where necessary for amendments to state law to more effectively safeguard children and put criminals who exploit them behind bars.
Finally, 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 allocate crime victims’ assistance funding toward communities most affected by violence and advocate for appropriately focusing the resources of the corrections and justice systems.
In addition to these specific areas of focus, my overarching priority will be protecting the people of Illinois against threats to their rights and the rule of law. In numerous ways that directly affect Illinoisans, the Trump administration has either declined to defend our legal protections or actively attacked them. At every point where the federal government has stepped back and left ordinary people vulnerable, state attorneys general throughout the country have stepped up and taken action. I am willing and ready to serve on the front lines against these threats, working on my own and with my counterparts in other states to challenge the administration in court. The relationships I have developed in state government and with state’s attorneys will enable me to act effectively in areas from gun trafficking to child protection. My professional experience as a prosecutor and policymaker and my personal experience as a father and a cancer survivor have prepared me to defend healthcare, workers’ rights, civil rights, choice, environmental standards, consumer protections and all our Illinois values that are currently at risk.
Who is Kwame Raoul?
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; assistant prosecutor, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney
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: www.kwameraoul.com
Recent news: Kwame Raoul
What would you do as attorney general to identify and combat public corruption at the state, county and local levels?
Raoul: I believe that the number one deterrent to public corruption is sunshine. That is why I sponsored legislation creating 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.
As 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 will create specific mechanisms for cooperation between my office and local prosecutors in order to access their grand jury powers in collaboration with them, and the relationships I have already developed with many of them will serve this purpose well. Wherever appropriate, I will collaborate with federal prosecutors.
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?
Raoul: Federal authorities are often best equipped to handle these types of cases, and in many states, the attorney general has asked the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to take the lead when there are concurrent investigations of the same individual for the same suspected crime. For example, federal authorities’ prosecution of former Governor Rod Blagojevich was the culmination of an investigation begun by the attorney general and the Cook County state’s attorney, and state, local and federal levels worked in concert on that case.
The attorney general has been involved in many recent prosecutions of public corruption, involving individuals of both parties, but more can be done. First and foremost, I will work closely with both local and federal prosecutors as appropriate to aid in investigating public corruption and bringing to justice those who violate the public trust. Federal authorities on the one hand, and local prosecutors on the other, need to know they can rely on the Office of the Attorney General as a partner, so I will ensure that the office is able to lend the necessary resources to all levels of law enforcement.
I am open discussing an expansion of the office’s power under state law – for example, giving the attorney general the ability to empanel a grand jury – while recognizing that statutory powers and tools are only as good as the resources devoted to their use. Such an expansion would need to be accompanied by adequate budgetary resources to allow it to fulfill its stated purposes, and the grand jury power would need to be appropriately defined.
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.
Raoul: The role of state attorney general is more important now than at any other time in our nation’s history. It 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, attack a woman’s right to choose through extreme judicial appointments and the reinstatement of the gag rule, roll back protections for students victimized by campus sexual assault and student loan fraud, end net neutrality, expose voters to attacks on their privacy, eviscerate workers’ rights and put our environment at risk. I will sustain Illinois’ involvement in ongoing multi-state lawsuits against the federal government and stand ready to defend the rights of Illinois residents whenever they are put in jeopardy.
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?
Raoul: 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.
Since the public safety grant suit was filed, the Trump administration has revealed more of its true colors, acting with shocking insensitivity to the humanity of immigrants by separating children from their families at the border and denying asylum to victims of domestic violence. Illinois must continue to stand for the fair treatment of everyone living in this state and not be coerced into undermining our own public safety objectives or the trust of vulnerable people, including asylum-seekers, who deserve justice, not heartless scapegoating.
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?
Raoul: First, I would take on federal policies that expose our communities to greater danger. State attorneys general have succeeded in temporarily blocking the Trump administration’s irresponsible settlement with a company that seeks to make designs for undetectable, untraceable 3D firearms widely available on the internet, and I will continue to work with this coalition to stop further distribution of such plans.
I would also 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. We must also address the complex factors that perpetuate the cycle of gun violence; that is why I passed legislation establishing a pilot program for trauma recovery centers to offer trauma-informed care to crime victims in under-resourced, violence-prone areas to help them reclaim their lives and prevent them from becoming the next perpetrators.
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.
Everybody running for this office promises to be an advocate for ordinary people. What, in concrete terms, does that mean?
Raoul: 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. They are particularly vulnerable to the daily attacks of the Trump administration on their rights, their values and the rule of law. 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. I can step up where the federal government has stepped back as it fails to protect women, workers, victims of sexual assault, students and the environment.
The attorney general is uniquely positioned to stand as the last line of defense against the Trump administration, arguing in court against civil rights violations and unlawful overreach. This position is also one that can defend 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. I will also take on the task of enforcing the transparency of government meetings and records.
I was in Willowbrook recently, and residents told me about their struggle against a public health threat in their community: ethylene oxide, a carcinogenic gas released by a local industrial facility. Chronic exposure to this pollutant can cause respiratory irritation, nausea, shortness of breath, neurotoxicity and an elevated risk of cancer, and about 20,000 area residents live near enough to the plant to suffer its effects.
These are some of the ordinary people the attorney general is positioned to stand up for as an advocate and as the state’s top legal officer. Advocacy has been my life’s work, and it will be an honor to stand up and defend people, like the residents of Willowbrook, whose rights, health and safety are threatened as they go about their daily lives, working and raising families in Illinois.
How in general would you follow or depart from the approach to the job taken by Lisa Madigan?
Raoul: 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 her work with attorneys general of other states in order to more effectively protect Illinois residents from federal overreach and corporate abuses.
I would more aggressively exercise the advocacy influence of the office, particularly in the area of criminal justice reform, where I will seek to 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 expand the pilot trauma center program I began 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 violence, but prevent it by addressing its underlying causes.
I will bolster the staff and resources of the Public Access Counselor to eliminate the backlog of FOIA and Open Meetings Act complaints that have accumulated. And I will put a heightened emphasis on the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in order to take full advantage of its capacity to connect local law enforcement and prosecutors with the resources they need to go after child predators and keep pace with the changing technology criminals use to lure youth.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.