Illinois gubernatorial candidates battle in first televised debate

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 10:49 PM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - Gov. JB Pritzker and Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) faced off in a heated first televised gubernatorial debate Thursday night inside the Braden Auditorium at Illinois State University. Illinois Nexstar anchors Tahman Bradley and Jennifer Roscoe moderated the intense discussion with many interruptions by both candidates and supporters in the crowd. Both men hope they made a good impression on voters.

The billionaire governor and millionaire farmer finally appeared on the same stage after months of attacks against each other in headlines and social media. Moderators started the debate by asking what the candidates would change in the SAFE-T Act, which eliminates cash bail on Jan. 1.

“The criminal justice system that Darren Bailey and Republicans are standing up for is one that allows murderers, rapists, and domestic abusers to buy their way out of jail,” Pritzker said.

However, the governor did not give specific examples of what he would like to see changed in the criminal justice law. Bailey wants to repeal the entire SAFE-T Act. The Republican said communities will be less safe if bail is abolished and Bailey argues that lawmakers need to start with a clean slate to make changes to the justice system.

“I think it’s very interesting that 100 of the 102 state attorneys across the state, a third of them being Democrats, are standing up against this as well,” Bailey said. “I think it’s obvious that’s why I have the full support of the police on this deal because they know exactly what this does.”

Still, Bailey said he would have supported bail reform for non-violent criminals. That is exactly what the SAFE-T Act will do. Criminal justice experts and advocates against sexual and domestic violence agree that the law will make communities safer.

“We believe firmly that whether or not you can write a check is not how we should determine whether or not someone is safe enough to let out of jail,” explained Vickie Smith, President and CEO of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Abortion was another hot topic the candidates sparred on.

“Illinois has the most permissive abortion laws in the nation,” Bailey claimed. “Nothing is going to change when I’m governor. I couldn’t change them if I could.”

Bailey likely made that claim because he would have to deal with Democratic supermajorities in both chambers if he became governor. Pritzker said he will continue to fight for a woman’s right to choose. The governor frequently calls Illinois an oasis in the Midwest for reproductive rights.

“Darren Bailey wants to eliminate a woman’s right to choose. He wants to take away a woman’s reproductive rights,” Pritzker said. “That is everything he stands for.”

“You are so divisive in everything you say,” Bailey shouted over Pritzker.

Both candidates had the opportunity to address the governor’s executive orders throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic. Bailey sued Pritzker over what he called an “abuse of power” during the worst of the pandemic.

“I followed the science. And by the way, we succeeded,” Pritzker said. “We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the Midwest and one of the lowest mortality rates in the Midwest.”

“No, no, no,” Bailey argued. “That’s not true.”

“And this was all fighting through when Donald Trump and Darren Bailey were promoting conspiracy theories and telling people not to follow any of the mitigations,” Pritzker added.

Yet, Bailey said that he would never shut down businesses or the government if there is another pandemic. Bailey frequently attended rallies across the state demanding Pritzker “re-open Illinois.”

“School children lost two years of education that they’ll never recover. Business left the state,” Bailey said. “The Magnificent Mile has a 29% vacancy rate. Friends, we can never do this again.”

The governor spent a few minutes in the spin room to answer questions from reporters covering the debate in person. The Capitol Bureau asked Pritzker if he regrets spending millions to fund ads lifting up Bailey over Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin during the Republican primary. Some voters feel Democrats across the country were wrong to help fund campaigns of alt-right Republicans they would face in November.

“Look, everything that I’ve said about Darren Bailey before the primary is true after the primary,” Pritzker said. “He is too extreme for Illinois. He is too conservative for Illinois. Those have been the messages of my campaign throughout.”

Meanwhile, Bailey chose not to speak to reporters after the debate ended. Campaign spokesman Joe DeBose walked into the spin room and said it was clear that Bailey won the debate.

“We won and winners don’t need spin,” DeBose said.

Pritzker and Bailey will face off again during a debate in Chicago on Oct. 18.

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