SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who sought the office to right the state's financial ledger but who spent the last 18 months leading it through one of the more treacherous health crises in history, announced Monday he will seek a second term.
“Big news: I’m running for re-election,” the Democrat tweeted above a three-minute video extolling his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve been through a lot, and I’ve been so proud to see Illinoisans come together during the toughest of times. I’m excited to fight for the state I love ... and there’s no limit to what we can do going forward.”
The multi-billionaire private equity investor and heir to the Hyatt Hotel chain, elected in 2018 with Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, set the record for gubernatorial elections by spending nearly $150 million of his own money. He defeated one-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, himself a millionaire who put up $68 million of his personal fortune.
While he has been coy about his plans, Pritzker's campaign account told the story. As of June 30, he had $33 million in the bank to wage a re-election battle.
Not surprisingly, no Democrat has suggested challenging him. He's drawn opposition from little-known Republicans including Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, who captured headlines last summer with court challenges to Pritzker's COVID-19 face mask mandate; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf; and Gary Rabine, a businessman from the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
Pritzker won the office by promising to pay the bills left from the epic struggle between Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly over spending which left the state without a budget for a record two years. Pritzker's highly successful first year, in which he saw legislative approval for a $45 billion capital construction program, legalization of recreational marijuana use, a balanced budget and more, ushered in an unexpected and unprecedented crisis when the coronavirus swept the nation and with it, Illinois in early 2020.
The video accompanying Monday's announcement paints a stalwart and consistent approach to stopping the virus' spread and treating the sick while adhering to to guidance from health experts, an approach that won broad approval but plenty of critics.
“When I ran for governor four years ago I could not have imagined that I would end up leading the state through a global pandemic,” Pritzker says in the video. “I may not have gotten every decision right but in every step along the way, I followed the science and focused on protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people.”
The pandemic has sidetracked the governor and his agenda, stalling progress on the campaign finance reform he promised while lawmakers have sent him an ethics package that critics have called too weak to combat the ongoing scandalous undertone of Illinois politics.
Pritzker has steered clear of any hint of wrongdoing, but his key campaign pledge to revamp the income tax system to make the wealthy pay more suffered a devastating defeat in last fall's election in part because of a bribery scandal that implicated then-powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was also chairman of the state Democratic Party. Madigan lost his bid for a 19th term as speaker in January and resigned his House and state party posts.
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John O'connor, The Associated Press