The “Snug,” a small private room in the back of The Celtic Knot, was completely packed Tuesday night as people gathered for a question and answer session with J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for Illinois governor.
The event was hosted by Action for a Better Tomorrow (ABT), a grassroots organization founded after the 2016 election that advocates for progressive values at all levels of government. Though they asked Pritzker to come and speak, the event was not meant as an endorsement of Pritzker. In fact, Alisa Kaplan, director of the Evanston chapter of ABT, told Pritzker at the beginning of the event that he was walking into “the lion’s den.”
The event was designed as a forum for citizens to ask about difficult issues for Illinois democrats, particularly money in politics. Kaplan and other audience members pushed Pritzker on his stance on campaign finance reform.
“I’m concerned about escalating costs of campaigns that leave a lot of people out,” Kaplan said. “I want to see some kind of serious change on [campaign financing] if we’re going to see serious change on a lot of the issues that are frustrating us in Illinois right now.”
In light of his and Rauner’s billionaire status, ABT and other grassroots organizations have asked Pritzker to sign a pledge stating that he’ll support the creation of a public campaign financing option, and he and Kaplan debated the topic for a few minutes. Pritzker did not say whether he’d sign the pledge but did say that he did not support public financing at a statewide level.
Aside from debating campaign financing, Pritzker fielded questions from the audience about healthcare, gun control and support for small businesses. At the beginning of the event, he explained his platform in more detail, emphasizing labor rights and his plan for tax reform. He also criticized current governor Bruce Rauner heavily, calling him a “silent partner” of Trump.
“My support for and knowledge of J.B. is pretty limited to the fact that he’s a Democrat,” said Trevor Lystad, a SESP sophomore. “I wanted to actually see him in action and hear some of his takes on issues.”
Lystad, and many other audience members, report feeling underwhelmed by Pritzker after the event.
“I thought he was fine, not particularly inspired, but I agreed with a lot of what he had to say, and I believe that he actually wants to fight for these values,” said Lystad.
Others were disappointed by his stance on campaign finance reform.
“It would be very easy and very progressive and Democratic of him to make a really full endorsement of this idea,” said Elizabeth Lindquist, director of Represent Rockford, a chapter of Represent.Us. “He doesn’t seem willing to do that, and that’s disappointing.”
This was Pritzker’s second trip to Evanston after the primary election in March, when the majority of Evanston democrats voted for Daniel Biss, the local state senator who ran against Pritzker in the primary. Ahead of the November election, he’ll continue to campaign on a progressive platform, hoping to defeat Rauner in November.