SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Governor J.B. Pritzker isn’t running from his record during the pandemic. He’s running on it.
A three-minute campaign video posted to social media last week demonstrated the Pritzker campaign’s confidence that most Illinois voters will approve of the steps the state took to set capacity limits and order nonessential businesses to close during the early days of the Coronavirus outbreak.
A survey of all 50 states measured voter sentiments throughout the pandemic. The ‘State of the Nation’ polling found Pritzker reached his peak at the outset of the pandemic in late April of 2020 when 63% of voters approved of the way he was handling the Coronavirus outbreak. The number dipped to 52% twice during the summer months when the virus had largely subsided, and climbed back to 57% by August when infections and hospitalizations were again climbing. By contrast, the same poll found Illinois voter approval of former President Trump’s handling of the virus range between 26-36%.
In the spring of last year, at the peak of Pritzker’s pandemic restrictions and emergency executive orders, the Coronavirus had not yet shown up in many rural portions of the state. Signs of downstate discontent still linger. Hundreds of residents have put up yard signs that read, “Pritzker sucks the life out of small business.”
In his campaign video, Pritzker acknowledged the strong disagreements many people have expressed about pandemic protocols.
“I may not have gotten every decision, right,” he said. “But at every step along the way, I followed the science and focused on protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people of Illinois.”
Later, in an interview with a Chicago TV station, Pritzker second guessed some of his own decisions and their impacts on small retail businesses that were shut down while big box stores flourished.
“I think, certainly in retrospect now, I think what we would say is, ‘if you could have kept the capacity limit appropriate in a smaller venue, it might have kept that open,'” Pritzker said.
During an interview with Capitol Connection, Pritzker painted his critics as a vocal minority.
“The loudest complainers about COVID-19 mitigations were the very people who wanted to do nothing about mitigations,” he said. “And the people who were following the mitigations — the vast majority of the people in our state — they weren’t the ones protesting, and protesting with signs, even signs with pictures of Hitler on them. They were folks who are doing the right thing in their communities, for their neighbors, and keeping everybody safe and healthy.
“I’m happy to talk to people downstate,” Pritzker said. “And what they tell me is that they’re very glad for the leadership that I provided and very difficult times for the state.”
The pandemic also disrupted Pritzker’s momentum in the legislature. During his rookie year in office, Democratic supermajorities pushed through nearly all of the first-term governor’s agenda, approving a $15 minimum wage, legal sports betting and recreational cannabis, a $45 billion capital infrastructure plan, and expanded protections for abortion and immigrants.
The two outstanding pieces of Pritzker’s 2018 platform that have eluded him are his clean energy deal, which is stuck in a statehouse stalemate at the moment, and his pitch to voters to alter the state constitution to abolish the flat tax and replace it with a graduated rate structure.
Would Pritzker revive his 2018 campaign calls for a progressive income tax in a second term?
“I’m not pushing the progressive tax,” Pritzker said. “What I am pushing is a fairer tax system. We can do that in a lot of ways. We’ll continue to look at it. But most importantly, we’ve got to deliver on the services that people are paying state government to deliver.”
At the time of the interview, Pritzker said 60% of state workers are back to work in government offices, but added that many of them may remain working from home permanently because they are “more efficient.”