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The Axe Files with David Axelrod

David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, and CNN bring you The Axe Files, a series of revealing interviews with key figures in the political world. Go beyond the soundbites and get to know some of the most interesting players in politics.

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Ep. 533 — Gov. J.B. Pritzker
The Axe Files with David Axelrod
May 11, 2023

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has carved out a national profile as a staunch advocate for abortion rights and gun control, raising speculation last summer that a 2024 presidential run was in his future. While he confirmed he won’t take on President Joe Biden, Gov. Pritzker joined David to talk about governing through Covid-19, the rise in anti-Semitism and attacks on minorities, his views on immigration and gun violence, and why he can’t rule out an eventual presidential run.

Episode Transcript
Intro
00:00:05
And now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN Audio, The Axe Files with your host, David Axelrod.
David Axelrod
00:00:18
J.B. Pritzker had just been elected governor of Illinois when he first sat down for The Axe Files a little more than four years ago. Since then, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist has navigated the state through COVID fiscal challenges, mass shootings and myriad other crises. Along the way, he's become an unlikely favorite of progressive Democrats who had been wary and added his name to the roster of potential presidential prospects for the future. We talked again the other day about his state and the state of our union. Here's that conversation. Governor J.B. Pritzker, good friend. Good to see you again. How are you holding up these days?
J.B. Pritzker
00:01:05
Great to be here with you. Things are going pretty well. We're busy. Beautiful day here in Springfield, Illinois, as we end the legislative session. So I feel like, you know, we're going to have success ahead just because the sun's out.
David Axelrod
00:01:20
It's always encouraging when a governor is in Springfield at the end of the session and says it's a beautiful day. That doesn't happen all that often.
J.B. Pritzker
00:01:29
I'm an optimist. I'm an optimist.
David Axelrod
00:01:32
Listen, I was thinking about the first time we did this podcast. I think it was just days into your governorship back in in 2019. And I was saying that feels like and it must to you like a millennium ago. Tell me what you you didn't know. I mean, not the things that were going to happen, but what didn't you know about yourself? What didn't you know about politics? What have you learned during these these subsequent four years?
J.B. Pritzker
00:02:00
Well, certainly so many things have occurred that were unexpected. You know, as you know, you run for governor, you know, wanting to make people's lives better by, you know, making it easier for them to send their kids to college, you know, making sure they can pay their mortgage, get a better wage, save money for retirement and so on, and lots of plans for that. No plans for a global pandemic. And for all the impact of that, as you know, beyond the terrible consequences of it, including 37,000 deaths here in Illinois and the thousands and thousands of people who got sick and some still suffering through long COVID. You know, in addition to all of that, there was, of course, a mental health crisis that occurred. There was, you know, a delay in learning for so many kids because of school closures or challenges to the teachers at schools. And and so, you know, having gone through all of that, I think the people of Illinois certainly are stronger for having lived through it. But but also challenged and for me, it reminded me how, you know, your darkest days in life are terrible when they're occurring. But I you can take away from them some, I think, you know, experience that comes from it. So, you know, I had I've had some difficult times in my life and I think, you know, in the worst times of the pandemic, trying to help others through it. And I think I summoned some of the things that I learned early in life and some of the challenges that I've learned from have helped me to help others overcome what they experience.
David Axelrod
00:03:54
And, you know, we should point out that for those who didn't listen to that podcast, the first podcast we did, it's it's still up and available for you and you should listen to it because I think there's a presumption that when your name is Pritzker and your income is measured in a B with a starting with a B, that life was on a glide path and it was certainly not on a glide path for you. You tragically lost your parents at a very early age. And it's it's worth listening to. But I just want people to understand what you're referencing when you say that, you know, you mentioned the schools and the closing of schools. And I guess my question to you is this was all uncharted waters like this whole pandemic. No one really had experienced anything like this. There was real question as to what this thing was. I mean, we were wiping off counters and we were doing all these things thinking, well, this is how we're going to get Covid. And it turns out that's not it. It was airborne, so on. The closing of schools, this is something that's going to be debated for eternity, not just in not just in Illinois, but across the country. Should schools have been open sooner? Because, you know, very clearly these young people lost a lot in terms of learning. Parents were outraged. And it feels as if they they they they might have profited from being open earlier.
J.B. Pritzker
00:05:30
Yeah. And I think, as you said and just as a reminder, there was very little information and certainly in the in the first year of Covid. And so we did everything that we could. You know, the most important thing that we were told and I think it's true, by the way, of any airborne airborne disease that you're trying to fight is that, you know, we needed to keep social distance because that's how you get it, is, you know, being close to other and breathing on each other and sweating. And, you know, all the other things that can occur when you're playing sports or rubbing shoulders in a hallway or whatever it is. So we did that in Illinois. We closed schools really just for the final two months of the school year in May and April and May of 2020. After that, we left it to the schools. We gave them all the information they needed. We gathered all the data to provide them in all the school districts, but it was up to them to make decisions about whether they were going to be fully remote or hybrid or or in-person. And, you know, I think there were a lot of different decisions made. I think most school districts made good decisions about how to keep people safe. But you got to remember that even though all of us would say now that while students weren't really the object of the Covid-9 pandemic, or at least very few of them, that there are a lot of teachers and administrators, and don't forget parents and grandparents who interact with the school every day. And so our deep concern was to make sure to keep everybody safe, even if it meant that those who might not be so vulnerable would have to also follow some mitigations. And and we achieve that, by the way. And we had huge success here in Illinois. It's you know, it's it's why we you know, by the end of 2021, we had the lowest, you know, morbidity, mortality rate, rather, in the Midwest. And, you know, we had the we were the first state really to get our vaccines out to people and did it quite quickly. So, you know, we should we have opened schools faster? I think you can't really order that when you don't know enough to know whether you're keeping people safe or not. I mean, we believed and I think it's true, that we kept a lot of adults and particularly vulnerable children safe. You know, there are children who have type one diabetes who are terribly vulnerable if they catch Covid. And the same thing, of course, for adults that have co-morbidities. So, again, you know, I think hindsight is always 20/20. Now. If I knew then what I know now, I certainly would have made some different decisions. But in the end, I think everybody did what they needed to do in especially it wasn't just the the state making decisions and telling people we were making suggestions and communicating. I was you know, we had a press conference literally every day for months on end to make sure that people knew what this illness was. The federal government wasn't doing that.
David Axelrod
00:08:43
Right.
J.B. Pritzker
00:08:44
And so we had to do that on our own. And I think the people of Illinois were successful because they listened to what the scientists and the doctors were saying.
David Axelrod
00:08:53
Actually, as a friend and someone who's known you for a long time, I was concerned about you during this period, because the strain of that must have been extraordinary. You're probably in a vulnerable category health wise. Being a man of a certain size, I can say that as a man of a certain size, the stress must have been amazing, but I mean, extraordinary. But I wanted to ask you about a related subject, which is you mentioned mental health. There also was outbreaks of sort of extremism. And you must have been a target of that, as every governor was. Talk about that, because I want to use this as a segue way into the issue of anti-Semitism, which I imagine sort of intruded on some of the threats and the comments that came your way.
J.B. Pritzker
00:09:46
Well, you remember that in the first week of the Covid pandemic and and, of course, the the stay at home orders. I think everybody was listening and watching and, you know, concerned and and and hoping that the federal government would step up and help out. But a few weeks in, you also recall that the president decided, well, that's it. You know, we're we're done with this thing. No problems going forward. Everybody just, you know, don't wear masks and do what you want. And if governors want to do something about Covid, well, that's up to them. Well, meanwhile, people are filling up hospitals all over the country. You remember what was going on in New York and in Detroit and across Michigan. And it was happening in Chicago, too. And, you know, we were extraordinarily challenged during that period. And because the president started to politicize this, it became a dividing line that never left. It was it's been here ever since. Covid became something that people were, you know, were particularly the right wing was throwing at everybody else, as if to say, hey, this is just the flu, don't worry about it. Meanwhile, thousands, indeed, across the country, more than a million people died.
David Axelrod
00:11:00
Yeah, they're still talking about some of their still elected officials talking about jailing Dr. Fauci for his for his actions during the pandemic, a guy who's saved millions of lives.
J.B. Pritzker
00:11:13
And people showed up outside of my office building in Chicago and then in Springfield, outside the Capitol, holding signs that implied that I was well more than implied that, you know, that had a picture of me dressed up as Hitler. They altered a picture and, you know, and and put a mustache on me and made it look like I was saluting the way that Nazis do. And, you know, I'm I built a Holocaust museum idea that people are holding signs and saying these things. It's ridiculous. They don't know what they're talking about, number one. Number two, these are people who some of whom got sick from even being at those rallies together. So but, you know, that that craziness that the right wing was pushing and it became so political because President Trump made it so it is, it has torn the country apart in ways that, you know, that we weren't already torn apart before the pandemic hit by President Trump. So, you know, we're still experiencing, as you said today, the anti-Semitism, the anti-Muslim sentiment among them, anti LGBTQ efforts that all seeped down into the recent school board elections, not just here in Illinois, but across the country. And, but particularly here in Illinois. I believe that and still do that, that we have to fight this at every level. We can't ignore it and just let it happen. I remember I'm old enough to remember the Jerry Falwell's, what he called the Moral Majority, trying to take over school boards and library boards. And and they did. And there was a big right wing fervor back then. And that's 30, 40 years ago. It's back and it's worse than ever. And the pandemic fed people's belief that, you know, somehow the government is a deep state that's trying to, you know, fill their kids heads with strange ideas, like wearing a mask might keep you safe when there's an airborne deadly pandemic going.
David Axelrod
00:13:22
Why did you build the Holocaust Museum? Why was that important to you, the Illinois Holocaust Museum?
J.B. Pritzker
00:13:28
It's funny you ask, because I think people maybe assume that my relatives were survivors of the Holocaust. They were not. They were survivors.
David Axelrod
00:13:36
Of the pogroms, right?
J.B. Pritzker
00:13:36
Pogroms. That's right.
David Axelrod
00:13:38
Yeah. My dad, too. That's what's of interest.
J.B. Pritzker
00:13:41
Yeah. And you know, and but instead, you know, I was approached by some survivors. And listen, when you grow up Jewish and you go to Sunday school and you get bar mitzvah and, you know, you you you obviously know quite a lot about the Holocaust.
David Axelrod
00:13:56
Yes.
J.B. Pritzker
00:13:58
You know, I used to tell people that, you know, in Sunday school, we watched a Holocaust film every Sunday. That's not true. But that's how it felt sometimes. So, you know, growing up, I understood that people, not just Jews, but people could be marginalized and turned into the other and even thought of as somehow inferior or maybe even, you know, like animals and treated that way. And then, of course, once you dehumanized people, it's easy to to to take away their rights and kill them. And that's what happened in Nazi Germany. And so, you know, I grew up believing that that's something that I have to go fight not just for Jews, but for African-Americans, for for Latinos and and for other marginalized group, LGBTQ+. And my mother was an activist fighting for LGBTQ rights in the seventies. And so, you know, put all of the experience that I had with her as an activist, with, you know, having learned about the Holocaust growing up and then being approached by Holocaust survivors who told me their personal experiences and how challenging their lives were back then and then how they survived. And by the way, many of them with just these, you know, infectious and joyous, you know, personalities and and yet they survived the worst of it, anything. So so when they approached me about helping them build a Holocaust museum, it was a way for me to exercise in more than just a public policy fashion. My belief in civil rights and and, you know, fighting for-
David Axelrod
00:15:45
Human rights, yeah.
J.B. Pritzker
00:15:46
That's right.
David Axelrod
00:15:47
I ask you this because the Anti-Defamation League just released their report and they said that we were experiencing the highest level of anti-Semitism in half a century. Have you experienced it? What do we do about that? And yes, let's stipulate that hate is on the march. And it's not just aimed at Jews. But talk a little bit about the problem and what we do about it.
J.B. Pritzker
00:16:15
Well, it's evident in virtually every thing that we do. Now, if you're paying attention to public policy, listening to the right wing, no matter who you are, if you're not a kind of a Christian nationalist, you are not part of what they would consider to be the majority of today, and that somehow you're involved in a conspiracy to tear down their rights. You know, it's all it's all made up and it's all made up to garner a following. I and I must say that it's so serious that, you know, I've done a lot of things as governor to stand up for other people's rights, but also to call out the anti-Semitism, particularly because sometimes that gets just mixed in and almost made up, you know, another in a line of, you know, types of hate. And and these days, as you point out, in the last year or so, we've seen so many incidents. So I actually called up the other three governors who are Jewish. You know, it's the largest number of Jewish governors ever in the history of the United States now. And I specifically had conversations with them about in this is back in December and early January about including in their State of the state speech or in their inauguration speech, something about hate and particularly talking about anti-Semitism. I thought that was important for each of us to do, and I wasn't sure who else would do it. That's why I called them. And and so I. I know I did. And Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania did. And I haven't listened to the speeches of Jared Polis or Josh Green in Hawaii. But I, but we we all agreed that this is an important thing for us to be doing, and also that we needed to take action in our states to to fight anti-Semitism. But it's not, as you point out, it's not the only kind of hate that's, you know, people are the object of and unfortunately, I've seen it particularly in these I mentioned the school board races, but it's at the local level. People are saying things to one another that don't get national news and they're but they're saying them to, again, other-ize people in their communities. And when it gets down to that level, you know, you're our country is tearing itself apart.
David Axelrod
00:18:54
And you must experience that yourself. I mean, like I said, you must it must come through in your threat stream and yours in social media aimed at you and so on, at your family.
J.B. Pritzker
00:19:05
Well, I mean, as you know, each of us as governor, we have, you know, an executive protection unit that that, you know, keeps us safe. And certainly here in Illinois, we have one of the best in the country. And so, you know, they get the threats. A lot of it comes over social media. Some of it is more direct than that. Recently, someone threatened my life with a message to the governor's office switchboard, so to speak. And and that person was was reported and indicted. I mean, a and then, you know, there are, as I mentioned earlier, there there are people who. You know, have attacked me. You know, because they disagree with me politically. They and they use anti-Semitic language. I see it certainly a lot in postings. They make comments and so on. But also just people have yelled epithets. And that's not something I must say in most of my life. I've not heard much of that. You know, my parents generation did. My uncle used to talk about, you know, how people looked at him funny. You know, he went to to law school in Chicago, and he was one of only two Jews who were in his class, I think. Newt Minow.
David Axelrod
00:20:35
Oh, yes.
J.B. Pritzker
00:20:36
Who recently passed away, unfortunately, was another one at Northwestern Law School. But, you know, back then in this we're talking about the 1940s. It was maybe not an uncommon thing for people that, you know, epithets, anti-Semitic epithets. But I hadn't heard many in my life directed, you know, verbally at me until the last few years.
David Axelrod
00:21:02
We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back with more of The Axe Files. And now back to the show. You know, you mention that this sort of movement of white Christian nationalists who have essentially painted the diverse population of the country as a threat and have promoted otherism and so on, and Jews will not replace us and all of that. And some of that, it seems to me, is a function of the social media environment in which we now live, which actually profits from the profit incentives that are misaligned and we profit from hate that, you know, outrage keeps people online, division keeps people online and drives them deeper and deeper and deeper into silos in which there they are, their views are affirmed but not necessarily informed. And everybody outside is alien. What do we do about that?
J.B. Pritzker
00:22:14
Well, let's also recognize that it's not just homegrown, that because of what you just pointed out, that a lot of it's on social media online. But the Russians, as we know, have engaged in, you know, providing bots and other things. And now with artificial intelligence, you can only imagine how that's going to go, you know, even more viral. But but they feed into what already existed and, you know, some hate, but not a you know, not a strong plurality of people. But so it's being fed by outside influences. How we deal with all of this has to include that that that that there are people outside the country who want to divide us and that we need to recognize and call it out and stop that as much as we can.
David Axelrod
00:23:08
For sure. For sure. But there are still I mean, a lot of it is homegrown and feeds on itself. You know, it has seeped into our politics. It's striking to look at the map of your election and you did well. You won by 12, 12 and a half points, but you carried, I think, 12 of the 102 counties or something. I think that's right. You know, Biden as well, when he ran the country itself, Donald Trump carried 83% of the counties in our country. We are a deeply, deeply divided country. And a lot of it, I think, has to do with what I said. Some of it has to do with economics and the fact that we are we are very polarized by our economic experiences. And, you know, you govern a state where there are a lot of rust Belt towns that were decimated by when globalization took hold. There are a lot of towns in which good middle class jobs went away. But it seems to me that this poses a problem for the Democratic Party because the Democrat Party is a party of working people. That's how the Democrat Party fashions itself sees itself. And there are a lot of working people in this country who don't see the Democratic Party in the same way, in part because of the experiences they've gone through, with globalization, with the financial crisis, losing their homes, losing their businesses, there was a sense of betrayal. What do Democrats have to do to repair that breach?
J.B. Pritzker
00:24:36
Well, you rightly identify economics and income as a major factor here. Remember that the Nazi Party and the, you know, the rise of anti-Semitism that took place in and hate broadly in Nazi Germany took place in the context of a decaying economic condition for the Weimar Republic.
David Axelrod
00:25:03
And hyperinflation.
J.B. Pritzker
00:25:05
Well, that's the point, right? When people when people are feeling that their standard of living is dropping and no one's doing anything about it right, they seek some, you know, in desperation, perhaps they seek easy solutions that people often offer. And it's an easy solution is focusing your ire on somebody or some group of people. So taking that to today, look, I ran for governor back in 2017, 2018 and traveled to all of those places in Illinois that you're talking about and talk to people and recognize. And this is a post, Donald Trump getting elected in 2016. Here I was in the 2018 election talking to people about their economic condition. I recognize that people had voted for Donald Trump that were in audiences that I was speaking to, and my message to them was about their economic condition and what I felt I could do to lift that up. And I talked at the beginning of this podcast about, you know, trying to make it easier for people to go to college, you know, raising wages and helping people save for retirement and just making their lives a little bit easier. You know, there's a great episode of West Wing for those of us who are, you know, political junkies. There is an episode of West Wing where there's a guy at a bar, and some of the White House staff, you know, get left behind by a bus in Iowa. They're trying to get back to Washington. They end up in this bar with this fellow who's trying to get his daughter, you know, enough money to go to college. And he's talking to them and and and giving them a little advice, like, could you just make it a little bit easier? I'm not asking for, you know, to inform my life, but just make it a little bit easier. And I always think of that, that line in. And of course, what people tell me, you know, in southern Illinois and central Illinois about their lives are just, you know, nobody's ever reached out and helped them. Like they don't feel like the system has worked for them.
David Axelrod
00:27:08
Well, it hasn't.
J.B. Pritzker
00:27:10
Well, and that's the that's the point. And so I really have felt like that's my job. I got to deliver where people said they weren't going to. And by the way, it's as you can imagine, it's against type for them.
David Axelrod
00:27:22
You're not exactly from central casting when it comes to Tribune of the working class. And I'm sure you're greeted with some suspicion.
J.B. Pritzker
00:27:33
Yes, of course. And you know, my friend, a former alderman, a mayor power in Chicago, has always says to me that you need to remind people that neither was Franklin Roosevelt. Tribune of the working class. But and yet he's the one who delivered for people across the country in some of the worst economic circumstances. So I've tried to do that over the last four plus years. That is, you know, I raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour when it was $8.25. I've stood up for people's right to collectively bargain for a better wage. I have made college more affordable by significantly increasing the amount of scholarship money the state provides.
David Axelrod
00:28:17
And let me just stop you for a second on that, because, you know, Josh Shapiro in his it may have been in his inaugural address, but he's stressing pathways for people who don't go to college and don't aspire to go to college, who are want to work in technical in technical areas and trades that require a different kind of training. Because one of the messages that I think that the Democratic Party has sent that sort of unconsciously in many ways, is that we're going to make you more like us if you get a college education. You know, and then you've got communities where people have made good middle class livings and that for generations, doing things with their hands and their backs, doing technical kinds of things, trades, and there's sort of an element of almost unspoken or maybe even unintended disdain that comes with that. What about the people who don't want to go? You know, that's not their career path. That's not where they want to go.
J.B. Pritzker
00:29:22
Well, you forget that in Illinois, we have the third largest community college system in the country, and it does still cost money to go to community college. Community college, as you just pointed out, provides people with those basic skills. You can get a welding program. You can learn how to be a truck driver. There are an awful lot of things you can get from community college, and the scholarship money that we're providing does precisely that. In fact, as a result of the work that I did with a Pell Grant and the Illinois College Scholarship, which is called a map grant, together you can go to a community college for free if you're at the median income level or under. You know, we talk about college, but, you know, we're also doing vocational training. Same idea. The idea is give people a skill that will get them at least a middle class wage.
David Axelrod
00:30:09
Yeah.
J.B. Pritzker
00:30:10
That they don't ever need to go to a university. And I never said and wouldn't ever say that that people need to go to university, but people need all kinds of options. And in particular, we need a whole lot of people who have some skills that are helpful in manufacturing, which is one of our largest industries in Illinois. In agriculture, again, you don't need to get a university degree to get an agriculture education in Illinois. And having 48 community colleges that are spread across our state is a huge advantage for companies that want to move here and create jobs because they know they're going to need a replenishing supply of skilled labor. So that's what we've done with our college scholarship.
David Axelrod
00:30:54
It's important because one thing that I think was eye opening during the pandemic is that there are a whole lot of people out there who make our country go and we called them we we celebrated them as essential workers when we were in the middle of this crisis. And then they kind of recede into the background again when things are more normal and they're every. But as essential today as they were then and they deserve and I'm and I'm not accusing you of not recording this, but they deserve respect for the essential roles they play. That that includes better pay, but it also includes just the fundamental attitudinal shift.
J.B. Pritzker
00:31:41
I completely agree. And I think what you would find and if you look at the, you know, results in the election and I think in general, how people have viewed our our time in office here is, you know, this is about focusing on the the folks who are, you know, middle income and below and making sure that we're not just respecting them, but respecting them by providing the resources they need to go succeed on their own.
David Axelrod
00:32:08
Right. Because nobody's really looking to be a ward of the state. People want to go out and make a decent living and support their families.
J.B. Pritzker
00:32:17
Exactly. And there are there are a whole lot of people out there that just want to be able to make a good wage, a good wage. They're happy to work to get it, but they've got to make it. But, you know, when it was $8.25 and by the way, the national minimum wage is $7.25. That's a disgrace. That's a disgrace and $8.25 in Illinois wasn't a whole lot better. And it had been $8.25 for a decade. And so now, you know, we've been gradually raising it to $13. Now it'll go to 14, you know, by 2024 and 15 and 2025. And I that lifts a million people out of poverty. These are working people. This isn't a giveaway. These are working people. A lot of them are women of color, I might add. That's that's a plurality of the people that are making minimum wage. And and, you know, we just we have to recognize, like you said, that that people just need a they know they need to work. They know they need to go, you know, fight for the things.
David Axelrod
00:33:18
But I think even more than that, I think people want to I think people everybody wants to feel like they're contributing. They want to feel like they have some purpose in life that is meaningful and they take pride in that. So I think it's really important I got it because we'll quickly run out of time. I could chat with you forever, but I got to talk about guns. I have to talk about guns because we are we as a country are assaulted every it seems like almost weekly and in some ways daily. If you follow news from Chicago, for example, by this pope, public health emergency, which you've declared it of gun violence. The the latest from from Texas. Allen, Texas. We talked about extremism and anti-Semitism. Apparently the shooter there was a reflection of all that. But AR 15 rifles and other weapons completely legally in Texas from a private dealer. Not even clear if if he had had a background check, what would have turned up, because I don't know that he had a criminal background. But you've been really active on this issue, and yet Illinois is still sort of in the middle when it comes to number of gun deaths. Chicago has, you know, huge problems that have become quite well known. It was the centerpiece of the recent mayoral race. What's the answer in a country where we're literally drowning in guns?
J.B. Pritzker
00:34:56
Well, let's start with we need to ban assault weapons and as we did here in Illinois, and also switches that are turning regular guns that are not automatic into automatic weapons. And we ban those here as well, as well as these high capacity magazines. You know, the Highland Park shooting.
David Axelrod
00:35:15
Yes.
J.B. Pritzker
00:35:17
Is infamous now.
David Axelrod
00:35:18
Now, you must have had friends who were at that parade.
J.B. Pritzker
00:35:22
I did. And do And, you know, there the trauma that many people choose and for I did not know any of the people who died. I do know somebody who was shot and it was horrific. But that highlands.
David Axelrod
00:35:38
Seven killed, 49 wounded. These are war time numbers.
J.B. Pritzker
00:35:43
Exactly. And the shooter shot 83 bullets in less than 60 seconds because he had 330 round magazines that were full and was and can easily be switched out. And that's something that you could imagine having in a war. But on the streets of Haliburton or anywhere else, you know, in a in a city, in the town and in in Illinois or in the United States. Unfathomable. Why? Why are we who needs 90 rounds or 30 rounds in a in a magazine. It's ridiculous and and shamful.
David Axelrod
00:36:24
I did ask, by the way. I asked all of now, ex-colleague of yours, governor, colleague of yours, Asa Hutchinson, who of course, worked for the NRA at one point about this. And he said, look, in Arkansas, we we hunt with these things.
J.B. Pritzker
00:36:40
I'm sorry, but that's just not true. Real hunters. That's not how you hunt. You don't hunt. Firing 30 shots or 90 shots from from a you know, an assault weapon.
David Axelrod
00:36:52
I should ask I mean, have you hunted?
J.B. Pritzker
00:36:54
That's not hunting.
David Axelrod
00:36:55
Have you hunted?
J.B. Pritzker
00:36:56
Yes.
David Axelrod
00:36:57
Would you hunt? I mean, I haven't, so I'm not. I'm just. I'm curious.
J.B. Pritzker
00:37:01
I've shot birds and went deer hunting one time. And so I and I, you know, and frankly, I enjoyed it. I understand this is important that there are a lot of people grow up. This is the culture of where they grew up. And honestly, you know, single shot, you know, and, you know, and and, you know, the kinds of guns that are used for hunting are are are not weapons of war. And anybody that tells you that they're just making it. So, you know, the question I think, you know, there are two questions. Do we need all these guns that are on the streets, particularly ones that are easy to conceal? That's one question. And the other, of course, is these weapons that shoot so many bullets and shoot them quick. So and the answer is, well, you know, we have to address the not only the types of weapons that are available. You know, we all we already tell people, you know, you can't you know, you're not allowed to go get a missile launcher. So, know, there's apparently a limit that we're all willing to live with. And the question is, why do you need one of these assault weapons? So that's one answer. But the other is the underlying causes. So crime and the use of guns, both the mental health challenges, which, you know, the Republicans like to say, well, we should be addressing that and not guns. But they never vote for any of it. They didn't here in Illinois, we've proposed significant increases and I've passed significant increases in mental health funding. And the Republicans haven't voted for once, and yet they-
David Axelrod
00:38:35
And beyond that, Governor, I mean, this sort of sticks in my crawl as well, because, yes, I mean, I, I am vigilant about mental health. I lost some a someone dear to me to depression and suicide. And I think this should be a big priority for us as a country. But I also recognize we don't have extraordinary mental health problems. We have an extraordinary number of guns. I mean, and to to say this is really a problem of mental health belies the fact that no other country experiences what we experience. And we don't have more mental health issues than most of our peer countries. So it's just in a logical argument. It's an escape hatch for people who don't want to confront the actual issue.
J.B. Pritzker
00:39:22
And yet if they really believed it, they would support it. But I agree with you. And and then don't forget the the other underlying cause is just intense poverty that people are experiencing and that with no hope. And if we're not investing in particular areas and I think of areas of Chicago where crime is the worst, if we're not investing in helping people to get out of poverty, whether it's, you know, creating jobs of their own in the community or providing jobs for them and giving them opportunity to get an education that'll get them a, you know, a decent wage. I mean, if we're not lifting up those communities, we're never going to solve the problems of urban America that lead to crime.
David Axelrod
00:40:08
We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back with more of The Axe Files. And now back to the show. Illinois does have. I think the I saw ratings from the Giffords anti, you know, the Giffords gun safety organization and others. Illinois now has as a result of a lot of the work you've done. I think the eighth most significant gun safety laws in the country, the strictest gun safety, eighth strictest gun safety laws. But we still see gunfire raging on the streets of the city, particularly, as you point out, in the most impoverished neighborhoods, but not exclusive to that, I'm sure if if if some if an opponent of gun safety laws were here, they say, well, if they're so good, why why do you still have these problems in in Chicago?
J.B. Pritzker
00:41:13
Well, we've only just put those restrictions in place. As you know, the Supreme Court generally took off the restrictions more than ten years ago on, you know, concealed carry and, you know, the ability of people to acquire guns. But only recently have we passed laws like the ones I mentioned that are limiting not just assault weapons, which, you know, I grant you, is only 6% of the deaths that are occurring. But but it's 6%.
David Axelrod
00:41:40
You talk to people in Chicago and they will say these young people on the streets, almost all of them are carrying semi-automatic weapons now.
J.B. Pritzker
00:41:48
And that's the point. So so that's why we also ban switches that are taking those regular guns that you can acquire, because, remember, the assault weapon can cost you $800, $1,000, you know, regular old firearm that you can put a switch on that turns into an automatic weapon. That switch doesn't cost very much money. You can acquire it almost anywhere. We should be banning these nationally. And we've only had these restrictions in place since January. And and, frankly, you know, people are suing to try to remove those restrictions. But I wouldn't say you don't.
David Axelrod
00:42:20
You also have a problem with neighboring states, don't you?
J.B. Pritzker
00:42:23
We do. And I wouldn't say we've had these laws, you know, in effect for very long for anybody to make any judgment calls. In fact, all the statistics that people are citing are really statistics from a couple of years ago, because the FBI takes so long to gather the stats. But to your point, you know, a study was done that showed that 60% of the guns recovered in violent crime in Chicago were coming from Indiana. And, you know, because there are no restrictions over there now, look, we're doing more than ever to interdict the traffic of guns across state lines. But there's only so much you could do. You don't know exactly which vehicles are carrying weapons from having bought them in certain places in Indiana when they come across the line back into Illinois. So these are national problems that need national solutions. And I've talked directly to President Biden about that. He agrees and-
David Axelrod
00:43:17
Can't move the Congress.
J.B. Pritzker
00:43:18
In. Well, you know, and so I've got to do everything I can at the state level without help from the federal government.
David Axelrod
00:43:24
You told me we talked recently about Floyd cards, firearm owner ID cards in Illinois, and the fact that you can have your card suspended and that may prevent you from buying a weapon, but you still may have a cache of weapons in your home. And for time immemorial, nobody went and retrieved those. You're starting to do that. But that's a labor intensive, dangerous pursuit. So but it seems insane that people who who are deemed too dangerous to buy weapons should have weapons.
J.B. Pritzker
00:44:03
My predecessors didn't prioritize the removal of those guns from people's possession. People have had their ID cards removed. And so, yeah, there are thousands of them out there. And it takes, you know, for police officers really to go remove one single weapon or cache of weapons from any single individual just because, you know, you want them to be safe and to cover each other in the event that someone refuses to turn over their guns or actually uses them against them. So this is a huge problem. There's no doubt, we have you know, you said at the beginning we have too many firearms out there in people's possession, but particularly people who own them illegally. Those are the ones that we ought to be doing the most to remove. Now, again, Illinois is doing, I think, more than most, to try to get rid of those illegal guns by going and knocking on people's doors to try to, you know, get them to relinquish their weapons.
David Axelrod
00:45:01
But we need we need a national policy. But the problem is it's now become it's been made, I think, by the gun industry. This has been made a cultural issue.
J.B. Pritzker
00:45:13
Here in Illinois. I'm sorry. But, you know, here in Illinois, nobody has said that you can't have a gun legally.
David Axelrod
00:45:20
Right.
J.B. Pritzker
00:45:21
And indeed, plenty of people do. All we're saying is you shouldn't be able to go buy an assault weapon. Anymore and you shouldn't be able to buy, you know, high capacity magazines and shoot. Well, you know, 30 is one. You know, there's 100, you know, cartridge magazines that are out there. We just don't need those. And those ought to be illegal nationally. You know, we're we're doing everything we can. Nobody again, the idea that we're taking away people's freedom by limiting the the weapons to, you know, to so that they can't have the most, you know, kind of, uh, you know, dangerous weapons that are have mass destruction written all over them. That that's not removing people's freedom.
David Axelrod
00:46:07
Yeah. Well, I think, I think about the freedom of the this young man, the shooting in Texas. There's a horrific story about a whole family that was wiped out of two parents and a young child. And one child survived.
J.B. Pritzker
00:46:21
Yes.
David Axelrod
00:46:21
And you in particular, governor, can appreciate what that means for that child, having lost your parents at an early age. What about that child's freedom?
J.B. Pritzker
00:46:30
That's right. Remember in Highland Park, David, there were two parents who were with their very young toddler. And the two parents jumped on top of the child. The two parents were killed and the child survived because his parents heroically kept him alive. And so this is not unusual, unfortunately, anymore, where children are being orphaned because of the, you know, the destruction being caused by these assault weapons.
David Axelrod
00:47:03
We know this Title 42 is going out of existence this week. They expect a doubling of crossings over the border. Governor Abbott of Texas continues to send undocumented people who come over the border to Chicago, to New York and other cities. Mayor Lightfoot, who's leaving office next week, said, you know this, we've reached the limit of what we can do. What's your reaction to all of that? I know the state has been active in trying to help with the with the housing of of these immigrants and so on. But are you worried about what comes next?
J.B. Pritzker
00:47:44
I am. This is a humanitarian crisis. We dealt with it here in Illinois. We were the third largest recipient in Chicago of those asylum seekers. By Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, just bussing them really against their will and the mayor of El Paso doing the same thing to Chicago, where, you know, it's not like people crossed the border and said, I need to get to Chicago. So somehow they were all ushered onto busses and sent to Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., a few to other places. We are doing everything we can for people who arrive here. These are it is not their fault that they are being bused around the country. We need to help them. But it is it has reached crisis proportions. You know, the if the Republicans would come to the table in Washington to work on comprehensive immigration reform, this wouldn't be the problem that it is. But they like to use it as a political cudgel. They will continue to bus people to Democratic cities and Democratic states. Notice they're not sending them to Idaho or Wyoming or, you know, or to Florida from Texas. They're sending them only-
David Axelrod
00:49:00
They would they would say, because these states and cities that they're shipping them to have expressed an openness to immigrants that these other states have not.
J.B. Pritzker
00:49:11
We've expressed an openness, but so too, Miami is a city that welcomes immigrants and, you know, and so are many others. But the fact is that when there's a crisis, when we literally have tens of thousands of people coming across the border seeking asylum, not only does the federal government need to step up, but the states need to act responsibly. And we're doing everything that we can do to to, you know, feed, clothe, shelter people that arrive. But we need comprehensive immigration reform. It's the only answer.
David Axelrod
00:49:44
Last question on this, because I got some quick political hits for you. You think the Biden administration has has done a good job on this issue?
J.B. Pritzker
00:49:53
I think they have limited capability to do much because of the laws and the way those laws operate. That's why the Congress has to act. But, you know, with a Republican House, you know, last year when there was a Democratic House, they actually passed immigration reform bills, then a Republican House. This is they think that that this is how they'll win an election. So I think that the the administration is operating as best it can under very difficult circumstances and with no help from Republicans who should be the loyal. Opposition, but in fact are just tearing the country apart.
David Axelrod
00:50:31
I want to ask you a couple of questions about your own campaign for reelection. One of the things that got quite a bit of attention, there are two. One is obviously you spent quite a bit of money in your own on your own behalf. And I think you spent 170 million or something, which is not chump change. So the question is the appropriateness or of that. And the second one is some of those millions were spent during the Republican primary in lifting by advertising his conservative positions. The guy who ultimately won, who you annihilated in the general election. This was a pattern that was repeated around the country. And there there's been criticism of that. I've been critical, particularly in the case in Michigan, where Democrats went after a Republican who had voted for impeachment and lifted an election denier as your opponent was an election denier. Talk about those two things.
J.B. Pritzker
00:51:24
Well, let's talk about, you know, the problem of campaign spending in the United States. I come from a state, as you do, where, you know, we had a great pro campaign finance reform, Senator in Paul Simon.
David Axelrod
00:51:40
Yeah, my first client.
J.B. Pritzker
00:51:41
He was a wonderful guy who one of his principles was that we needed to reform our campaign finance laws and he fought against PACs, political action committees, and to limit the amount of money the PACs could collect and give. But while he was doing that, the PACs were spending money against him and against a lot of other Democrats, even though Democrats were fighting for reform. And I remember him saying back then that when someone asked him, well, how come you're accepting PAC money when you're fighting against it? And he said, well, we can't unilaterally disarm in the face of all the money that's being spent against us. And the fact is that when, you know, the wealthiest people in America are mostly on the Republican side writing enormous checks, Peter Thiel, Ken Griffin, you know, Richard Uihlein, you know, we on our side, we can't unilaterally disarm. So that's not the system that we ought to have. We need comprehensive, you know, campaign finance reform. But but until we get it, we're going to have to do something to fight the other side. Now, you're talking about primaries and what happens in primaries. You know, when I ran in 2017, 2018, before I actually became a full fledged candidate, the incumbent governor attacked me. Robocalls and and lots of publicity around attacks on me, even though I wasn't even a candidate. Why? Because he knew that I was going to be the toughest candidate against him.
David Axelrod
00:53:20
And now you had the resources to run.
J.B. Pritzker
00:53:24
That's certainly one reason why he attacked me. I think he saw a field that wasn't that difficult for him to overcome, except me. So anyway, I won. And then in 2022, what we did was, you know, there was a limit. The you know, the Democratic Governors Association was involved, but I, too, was involved in messaging between, you know, each organization about two things. One is the candidate that Ken Griffin wrote a $50 million check to in the primary.
David Axelrod
00:53:58
A hedge fund magnate who recently moved his business from Chicago to Florida.
J.B. Pritzker
00:54:03
But most importantly, is a right wing zealot who has supported lots of right wing, including being one of Ron Desantis's largest supporters. And before that was a supporter of Donald Trump, although he did it in the dark money circles. But he wrote a $50 million check to a somebody running in a Republican primary. Yeah, I wanted to make sure that people knew who that candidate was, what he stood for. And then, you know, I think the ads that got run by the Democratic Governors Association about the guy who won that Republican primary, frankly, said exactly what that guy believes, which is, you know.
David Axelrod
00:54:39
Well, that's the argument, honestly, that that's what the market on the Republican side bought, that what he was offering. But I can't let you go without talking about two other things. The Democratic convention coming to the city of Chicago. I know that you were relentlessly soliciting the convention for Chicago, probably gave people the Democrats comfort that the convention would be paid for by the business community in Chicago and yourself if necessary. Why was this so important to bring the convention? And what does it mean to Chicago?
J.B. Pritzker
00:55:14
Well, the last great convention that was held, in my opinion, was the 1996-
David Axelrod
00:55:20
It was a great convention, actually.
J.B. Pritzker
00:55:22
It's also the last time that the Democratic Party didn't lose money on a convention. So it's important that a city put itself forward as being able to, you know, pay its own bills to in order to, you know, make sure that convention doesn't lose money for the party. So we have, you know, some great, as you know, a lot of civic minded businesspeople and corporations who want to make sure that we do well in the city. And having a Democratic convention brings hundreds of millions of dollars of commerce. So that's how we were able to convince them, anyway, that we could pay our bills in in in Chicago. It was important to me to bring it to Chicago because, look, it's good for our state. It's good for Illinois. Nobody paid attention to the fact that we won the Rotary Convention, which is larger than the Democratic National Convention. And we'll do just as much or more for our economy. But I know that the Democratic convention gets a lot of attention, brings a lot of commerce, and very importantly, it'll allow Chicago to kind of reintroduce itself.
David Axelrod
00:56:24
Yeah.
J.B. Pritzker
00:56:24
I know that people like to give it a bad rap because of so many.
David Axelrod
00:56:28
It's a great city.
J.B. Pritzker
00:56:29
Crime. But, you know, the fact is that the city is it is wonderful. And the summers in Chicago are glorious. Anybody can remember back to 1996 knows that if they hadn't been here since.
David Axelrod
00:56:41
Finally, you raised eyebrows last summer with a couple of trips that you took. One was to New Hampshire, the other was to Florida. You gave rip roaring speeches, partizan speeches, and it raised a lot of conjecture about what your ambitions are. Obviously, President Biden is running now, by the way. I'm not going to I could ask you about the polls and the questions about his age, but you're too agile to waste time on that because I know you won't engage with me on that. But I do want to talk about the future, because could you see yourself as a national candidate one day? Not in 2024, but in the future. Is that something that would interest you?
J.B. Pritzker
00:57:26
You know, I'm flattered to be talked about in that way. And it is certainly, you know, when I think about doing good in the world, being governor of Illinois has been one of the most wonderful things I've been able to do. And and I do love the job. Most important and best job, I and I, I can't imagine another job. So having said that, I know that there is talk about, you know, what it will take to make sure we elect Democrats and particularly a Democratic president in the future. And I think people know that I am very focused on it's very important not just to stand on principle, which I think you've seen that I have done throughout my term in office and throughout my life, but also focused on winning and not just for me, but for Democrats up and down the ballot. And I've done that both times. And I was on the ballot. I helped to add Democrats to the General Assembly and add Democrats in county races and local races, because I really believe in our principles as a party. So, you know, I'm going to do everything I can to help elect people I and on the Democratic side and to fight for a woman's right to choose and against the gun violence and and assault weapons. I and and to raise up the standard of living for all.
David Axelrod
00:58:48
So you didn't say no. That's what I'm looking for. You did not say no. If through that hail of words, I did not hear the word no.
J.B. Pritzker
00:58:58
It put you down for thinking out loud. And the truth is that I don't think anybody can legitimately, you know, and definitively say no to thinking about what the future would hold. But the truth is that I love the job that I have.
David Axelrod
00:59:15
Mm hmm. Okay. All right, Governor, it's always good to be with you. Good luck as you wrap up your legislative session and try and get a budget done. And I look forward to seeing you in Chicago in the summer of 2024.
J.B. Pritzker
00:59:30
I do, too. Be well.
David Axelrod
00:59:31
Thank you.
Intro
00:59:35
Thank you for listening to The Axe Files brought to you by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN Audio. The executive producer of the show is Miriam Fender Annenberg. The show is also produced by Jeff Fox and Hannah Grace McDonald, and special thanks to our partners at CNN for more programing from the IOP, visit politics.uchicago.edu.