J.B. Pritzker at Southern Illinois Democratic Women luncheon

Democratic Illinois governor candidate J.B. Pritzker speaks at a luncheon Saturday before the Southern Illinois Democratic Women. 

MARION — During a campaign-stop luncheon hosted by the Southern Illinois Democratic Women on Saturday afternoon, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker billed himself as a feminist ally and a proud member of the anti-Trump resistance.

Pritzker, a billionaire investor and entrepreneur, told a crowd of 250 people at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 318 that he was “ready to listen … ready to resist and ready for the fight ahead.”

After his speech, Pritzker moderated a panel discussion featuring female leaders.

His running-mate, Juliana Stratton, state representative of the 5th District, noted in her introductory remarks that Pritzker was the first candidate in the race to choose a woman for the lieutenant governor position.

“This is a partnership, and together, we’re going to put Springfield back on the side of women and families,” she said.

In 2016, Stratton said, Illinois women made an average of $41,327, compared to the average for men of $52,161. She said equal pay for equal work will be a top priority for Pritzker’s administration.

Pritzker spoke about his disappointment after the 2016 election, when Donald Trump won the presidency in a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton.

“I was sad for our country, I was sad for the direction that it would take us in and for what it meant about and for our values. I was sad that my daughter witnessed a misogynistic, racist man defeating a deeply qualified woman for president,” Pritzker said.

Everything changed, he said, with the Jan. 21 Women’s March and the women-led grassroots movement that followed. He called women “the lifeblood of the resistance movement” who have also broken the silence on sexual misconduct and assault with the #MeToo movement.

“As I have said over and over and said to men across this state, let me be clear: I believe you, and I will always believe you,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said his involvement in Democratic politics started with his mother, who instilled in him a passion for social and economic justice activism.

“One of my very first memories, in fact, as a little kid was getting dragged around by my mother to knock on doors for Democratic candidates,” Pritzker said. “… My mother taught me how to fight for what I care about, and how to resist — my mother did that.”

He said central and Southern Illinois have suffered under Gov. Bruce Rauner with the shuttering of social service programs, and went on to sketch out the basic aspects of his platform, highlighting a need for affordable health care, universal preschool and child care, affordable college education and paid family leave.

Pritzker said public officials must do less talking and more listening, particularly to women.

“I need your advice on the challenges that we face and how we move forward. I need the help of women of color, who have been resisting for generations. Together, we will keep up this fight at a grassroots level, keep our momentum going and channel our energy into victory in 2018, and then, after we win in 2018, we are gonna go beat that misogynist in the White House!” he said.

Next, Pritzker moderated a panel featuring the founder of Action Illinois and co-founder of Southern Illinois Democratic Women Jennifer Camille Lee; Pamela Smoot, clinical assistant professor in Africana Studies and coordinator of recruitment, retention and outreach at the College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University; Stephanie Fortado, a labor activist and lecturer at University of Illinois’ labor education program; and Stratton, a first-term lawmaker.

In his first question, Pritzker asked Stratton how Democrats could ensure that Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama “is the beginning and not the end of a rising tide of African-American women” voter support.

Stratton said she was grateful that black women voters were acknowledged for their role in the Alabama race, but said Democrats must strive to be more inclusive to black women, especially when they make appointments to staff and decision-making bodies.

“I think we have to remember that when we have acknowledgement and it’s not followed by inclusion, or we have acknowledgement and it’s not followed by listening, or we have acknowledgement and it’s not followed by really creating space at the table, then it’s not sufficient. … What kinds of ways are we going to be included so that we can have a voice and a direction in the policies that affect all of us?” she said.

Asked what makes campaigns successful, Fortado said the short answer was women.

“Every successful campaign I’ve been a part of has had a group of women in a room on computers crunching data,” she said.

Pritzker asked Lee how to keep the momentum going in the women’s resistance into 2018 and beyond. She said there are already marches planned for the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration in Carbondale, Springfield and Chicago.

“I feel like women have found their voices in the last year, and I just can’t see us leaving them behind again,” Lee said.

In response to a question about the challenges SIU has faced under Rauner, Smoot said the budget impasse was a “terrible, terrible time” for the university.

“It was a time of doom and gloom, and morale was low among faculty, administration, just all across the campus you could feel the air of despair. I think that one of the biggest challenges of the university and for me as well was to try to reassure the students that this would pass,” Smoot said.

Several prominent Democrats were present at the event, including: St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, who hopes to challenge Rep. Mike Bost for the 12th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; Natalie Phelps Finnie, who was appointed in September to replace Brandon Phelps as state representative of the 118th District and is running unopposed in the primary; Marsha Griffin, who lost to Terri Bryant last year for state representative of the 115th District and is running again; and Tamiko “T.C.” Mueller, also running for the 115th District seat.

Democratic and Republican primary elections will take place on March 20, 2018.

janis.esch@thesouthern.com

618-351-5082

On Twitter: @janis_eschSI

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Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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