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From free college to universal preschool, Gov. JB Pritzker pledges a second-term ‘agenda as ambitious and bold as our people are’

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker waves to crowd after delivering his inaugural address during ceremonies Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Springfield, Ill.

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday offered up bold promises in his second inaugural address, vowing free college tuition for working-class families and more affordable and widespread health care and child care.

The Chicago Democrat sketched an agenda he called as “bold as our people are, thinking not only about the next four years, but about the next forty.”

In a speech that paid respects to everyone from a nurse who died from COVID-19, to victims of gun violence, to former Gov. Dwight Green, the governor also vowed to “fight against a rising tide of hate,” protect women’s reproductive rights and finally get the assault weapons ban passed.

“I’m tired of living in a world where a mass shooting needs a title so you know which one we’re referring to,” Pritzker said. “Hospitals, high schools, homes, parades, offices – there is no place, geographic or otherwise, that has been spared from the threat of gun violence.”

Pritzker’s 25-minute inaugural address was reflective and optimistic — and very different than previous inaugural addresses that ticked off many of the state’s deep problems. It also offered a glimpse — but not a lot of details — into his second-term policies, which took a backseat during a contentious political battle against Republican gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey.

The lengthy ceremony also featured the inauguration of all of the state’s constitutional officers, including the official political comeback of Alexi Giannoulias, a former state treasurer who was sworn in as Illinois secretary of state to replace retiring Jesse White.

Pritzker said it is his administration’s obligation to make college more affordable by bringing own the cost of higher education, vowing to focus on “making tuition free for every working-class family.” He said he’s also work to make preschool available to every family throughout the state and provide more economic security for families by eliminating childcare deserts and expanding childcare options.

He also broadly stated that health care coverage must become “more affordable and more widespread.”

As the Illinois General Assembly continues to negotiate a measure that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the state, Pritzker said in his address that Illinois must become the ninth state to pass an assault weapons ban — and the federal government “should follow our lead.”

“Now, I’m a firm believer that government functions best when we look for compromise. But I’m done with the NRA having its way when it comes to mass shootings,” Pritzker said in his address at the Bank of Springfield Center. “Why do we allow anyone to easily purchase a rapid-fire, high-capacity weapon that can kill dozens of unarmed people in under a minute?”

Democrats are also hoping to pass an abortion measure during the lame duck session that would expand the scope of medical professionals who can perform abortions, among other legal protections. And Pritzker said he’d continue to embolden Illinois as a safe haven for women in the Midwest.

“The extremists still want to take away a woman’s right to choose, and I don’t intend to let them,” Pritzker said. “That’s why yet again, on women’s rights, Illinois will lead.”

Pritzker said the country has “slid noticeably backward” in its progress against bigotry and intolerance, with a rise in hate crimes against Jewish and Black parishioners, Jewish graves, Asian-American seniors, Muslim-Americans and the LGBTQ+ community.

“Hate needs two things to thrive: the sense of helplessness that fertilizes hopelessness — and the willingness of powerful people to cower in front of a lie. In Illinois, we have power and we have hope – and a genuine goodness that is rooted in being the place in this country to which all people can come and live free,” Pritzker said. “We must recognize that hate can wield enormous strength — but we must remember the fortitude with which we have always confronted it.”

Pritzker took the oath of office at 12:01 p.m. alongside his wife, Illinois first lady M.K. Pritzker, and his two children. In his address, Pritzker said he has learned from the “words and actions of past governors, regardless of their political affiliations or learnings.”

“Although let’s be honest, in Illinois choosing which ones to learn from can be a challenge,” Pritzker quipped.

He chose to focus on Green, a conservative Republican who was governor for most of the 1940s as World War II raged on. Pritzker said the former prosecutor was “somber but bullish” in his first inaugural, and comforting in his second, reflecting the 18,601 Illinoisans killed in the war.

“I think everyone here knows a little about that feeling of loss,” Pritzker said. “Over the last three years, we lost 35,814 Illinoisans to COVID-19. That grief and the desire to comfort are all too familiar to me.”

Pritzker singled out Joyce Pacubas-Le Blanc, one of the first Illinois nurses claimed by the virus. He quoted her husband, Lawrence LeBlanc, who paid tribute to his wife in 2020 by saying, “If I had another 10 lifetimes to live and I had to choose, it would be with her.”

“The difficult thing about governing through unprecedented times is that it’s your job to set the precedent, to find a path, even when none appears to exist,” Pritzker said.

“As Governor it’s your job to plan for the future, even as you continue to grapple with the past. That’s a lesson tucked into Gov. Green’s second inaugural speech, which while filled with somber remembrance, also set a second term agenda for post-war Illinois even before the war ended.”

After being sworn in, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul also vowed to take on the gun lobby, saying gun violence has surpassed auto accidents as the number one killer of children.

“I’m asking our Legislature to give me the power,” Raoul said. “Give me power to go after those in the industry, on behalf of our kids.”

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Illinois Newsroom gets stories from public radio stations from across the state, including WBEZ-Chicago, WCBU-Peoria, WGLT-Normal, WVIK-Rock Island, WIUM-Macomb, WNIJ-DeKalb, WSIU-Carbondale, WUIS-Springfield, and St. Louis Public Radio.

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