Kwame Raoul: Candidate Profile
Name: Kwame Raoul
Office sought: Illinois Attorney General
Occupation: State senator; partner, health law group, Quarles & Brady
Education: Chicago-Kent College of Law (J.D., 1993), DePaul University (B.A. in Political Science, 1987)
Civic involvement: Board member, International Child Care; board member, Legal Prep Charter School; advisory board, Youth Guidance - Becoming a Man program; steering committee, American Heart Association - Counsel for a Cause; assistant prosecutor, Office of the Cook County State's Attorney
Elected offices: State Senate (2004-present); delegate to Democratic National Convention (2008, 2012, 2016)
Questions & Answers
What personal background and experiences particularly qualify you for the role of attorney general?
During my 25 years of practicing law and 14 years in the state Senate, I have been involved in a wide variety of law and policy issues related to the duties of the attorney general's office, including voting rights, workers' rights, criminal justice reform, public safety, consumer protection, education, health care access, the environment, the rights of domestic violence and sexual assault victims and the protection of working families and the middle class. I have served as a prosecutor, practiced education and health law, represented workers in labor and employment cases, represented those falsely accused of crimes and taken on civil rights cases.
While serving in the General Assembly, I actively advanced policies such as comprehensive law enforcement reform, protections for victims of domestic violence and limits on excessive payroll debit card fees. I helped pass the law that expanded Medicaid access under the Affordable Care Act and have consistently defended a woman's right to choose. I have sought to lead by bringing together legislators and interest groups with diverse viewpoints and brokering difficult deals. With this background, I am uniquely qualified to transition from legislating to prosecuting, advocating and enforcing as the state's attorney general. In particular, my experience crafting and passing criminal justice reform legislation will allow me to use the office of attorney general to continue making Illinois' justice system more equitable and effective.
What do you consider the chief responsibility of the state attorney general and how would you conduct the office to achieve it?
I believe the three primary roles of the attorney general are to protect, represent and advocate. As attorney general, I will protect the people of Illinois by continuing the current attorney general's aggressive pursuit of consumer protection actions, appropriately distributing crime victims' assistance resources to benefit those who need them most, strengthening the Workplace Rights Bureau to more effectively handle allegations of labor law violations and fighting back against federal overreach that threatens the rights of Illinois residents. I will work closely with local law enforcement and prosecutors to crack down on child sex abuse and keep children safe at a time when rapidly advancing technology offers predators unprecedented opportunities to reach their victims even in their own homes. I will use my own legal experience and the top-quality diverse, talent I will hire to ensure that the State of Illinois is effectively represented in court where it is the defendant or plaintiff. And I will utilize this statewide office's bully pulpit to advocate for criminal justice reform, open government and other policies that benefit the people of Illinois and make justice more accessible and even-handed in this state.
Is the office of the public information access counselor important? What should be the attorney general's role in ensuring that state and local governing bodies operate in an open and transparent manner? (limit 250 words)
I believe that the number one deterrent to public corruption is sunshine. That is why I helped secure passage of legislation creating in statute an office under the Attorney General -- the Public Access Counselor -- to expedite responses to Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act complaints. Members of the media and the general public should be able to access all information to which they are entitled as quickly as possible, so elected officials can be held accountable and so voters and taxpayers understand what governments are doing with their authority and money.
FOIA is a powerful tool, but only to the extent that government bodies comply with it. One of my top priorities as Attorney General will be assuring that the Public Access Counselor is appropriately staffed to respond quickly and accurately to FOIA requests and complaints. The first step in combating public corruption is making sure the existing powers of this office can be exercised to the fullest extent allowed under law. I will seek out additional means of using my role to deter and oppose public corruption, which degrades public confidence in government, discourages the civic involvement of talented people motivated to serve the public good and wastes taxpayer dollars. I will create more specific mechanisms for cooperation between my office and local prosecutors in order to access their grand jury powers in collaboration with them. Wherever appropriate, I will partner with federal prosecutors.
How aggressive should the attorney general be in seeking consumer protections through the courts?
Current Attorney General Lisa Madigan has done a tremendous job of using the powers of her office to protect consumers against fraud, deception and other corporate misconduct, taking for-profit colleges, payday lenders, student loan servicers and more to court. I will continue to aggressively pursue these cases and look for additional opportunities to protect consumers from scams and unsafe products, partnering with other state attorneys general when doing so would be advantageous to the people of Illinois. Where the federal government has stepped back -- for example, in defending defrauded student loan borrowers and enforcing quality standards for nursing homes -- I will step up and ensure Illinoisans are protected.
I will also continue, in my capacity as an advocate, the work I have done in the General Assembly to update consumer protection laws to keep pace with changing technology. As a senator, I supported the Biometric Information Protection Act and stricter disclosure requirements for companies whose customers' information is exposed by a data breach. I also sponsored the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, which, if it becomes law, would prohibit the wide variety of "smart" devices, appliances and even toys being offered today from recording audio without the consumer's consent. We need to ensure that data these products -- especially those marketed to children -- are storing is not misused or vulnerable to a breach.
How efficiently do you think the attorney general's office operates currently? What, if anything, would you do to streamline the office?
The Office of the Attorney General has an annual budget of approximately $80 million, $30 million of which comes from General Revenue Funds and more than half of which is self-generated through court fees and fines. As attorney general, I will carefully evaluate the functions of the office to determine whether its divisions are operating at maximum effectively, to improve value to the taxpayer and to identify where additional staff and resources are needed to build on the work the office is currently doing while equipping to face new threats to the rights of Illinoisans.
In the Senate, I filed legislation expanding the Workplace Rights Bureau. This division is dedicated to handling cases involving allegations of workers' rights violations and is equipped to prosecute rogue employers. It needs to be strengthened for more effective enforcement of Illinois labor law. While it is unclear how much additional funding will be needed to adequately staff this unit, the expansion could largely pay for itself through improved recoupment of fines from employers found in violation.
The public access division is also in need of additional staff in order to handle FOIA requests and complaints in a timely fashion and protect the public's right to be informed.
Finally, I will evaluate the staffing and capacity of the crime victims' services unit to make sure resources are prioritized appropriately, reaching the most victimized communities in Illinois.
What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate to this office?
The office of a state attorney general has become a position of heightened importance as the Trump administration has aggressively sought to roll back policies that protect the rights of people living in Illinois and nationwide. It would not be an exaggeration to say this position is more important now than at any time in our nation's history. Whether independently or in concert with other attorneys general, I am prepared to combat Trump administration attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, roll back protections for victims of campus sexual assault and student loan fraud, weaken penalties for nursing homes that put patients at risk, expose voters to attacks on their privacy, give polluters leeway to disregard environmental health and bully local police into acting as immigration officers. I will sustain Illinois' involvement in ongoing multi-state lawsuits against the federal government and be prepared to respond proactively to further developments.
I will also continue the work I began in the legislature on criminal justice reform, working with lawmakers of both parties to maintain Illinois' progress toward appropriately focusing the resources of the corrections and justice systems. I will call for and participate in initiatives that target gun trafficking. And I look forward to bringing to fruition the pilot trauma center program I pushed for in the General Assembly to address the trauma stemming from violent crime ravaging already under-resourced communities.
In addition, here are a few questions mean to provide more personal insight into you as a person:
What's the hardest decision you ever had to make?
Almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the disease that claimed the lives of my father, both grandfathers and uncles on both sides. Because of this family history, I had gone for regular screenings for over a decade. When my day came, the doctors gave me several options: some involving surgery, some involving radiation and the least recommended option (given my high risk), watchful surveillance. The surgical options presented the highest likelihood of undesirable side effects, but they also would offer me the opportunity to continue to be present for my family to the greatest extent.
If choosing my treatment approach was the hardest decision I've ever made in my life, the hardest conversation I've ever had was the one in which I informed my children that their father had a potentially life-threatening diagnosis. I remembered all too vividly the similar, frightening talk my father had had with me.
As difficult as it was to choose my way forward after diagnosis, I consider myself blessed that my access to health insurance provided me with such a range of options, followed by a successful surgery, a great prognosis and the opportunity to have many happier conversations with my children.
Who is your hero?
My father, who came to this country from Haiti and became a community physician on the South Side of Chicago, is my hero. He lost out on his first employment opportunity because the employer didn't expect to see a Black man at the job interview; then he went on to serve his community for 30 years. He made house calls with a little black bag, and he never turned away a patient who was unable to pay. He'd come home with a block of cheese or a fruitcake, or to pay him back, someone might come fix the plumbing. My father taught me that healthcare isn't a privilege; it's a human right. November 6 is a day that holds great significance for me. Not only is it this year's Election Day and the day I was appointed to the Illinois Senate; it was the day I lost my father to prostate cancer in 2003.
Each amendment in the Bill of Rights is important, but which one of those 10 is most precious to you?
The Fifth Amendment is the most important to me (and has been ever since I began studying the law), because it codifies the concept of due process -- the fundamental pillar of seeking justice. It also states the value of protecting life, liberty and property, a notion essential to our system of government and the freedoms it offers. This protection is not only important on its own; the Fourteenth Amendment applied it to the states, and it overlaps in many ways with the rest of the Bill of Rights and other constitutional amendments.
While I prioritize the Fifth Amendment because it lays the groundwork for access to justice, there is another that is often ignored but shouldn't be -- the Ninth Amendment, which specifies that the Constitution's enumeration of protected rights is not an exhaustive list of the rights we possess. The spirit of the Ninth Amendment is what leads me, for example, to advocate for access to healthcare and education as human rights, not optional privileges for those who can afford them.
What lesson of youth has been most important to you as an adult?
On several occasions during my childhood, my parents took my sister and me to visit their native Haiti. When we were there, we did not stay in resorts; we stayed with family. Our visits to Grace Children's Hospital made a deep impression on me, and I later served on the board of its parent entity. We spent time in some of the most disadvantaged areas in arguably the most disadvantaged country in the Western Hemisphere. From these trips, I learned to appreciate what I had. I also learned to do for others who had far less than I did, yet were full of life and the spirit to do for themselves. I took home enduring lessons from their capacity to laugh and enjoy their lives, notwithstanding what they did not have.
Think back to a time you failed at something. What did you learn from it?
Between 1995 and 1999, I ran for office three times and lost all three races. I let this failure teach me several important lessons that ultimately empowered me to successfully serve in a elected capacity. I learned that being equipped academically is not the same as being equipped politically. I learned to be forthright about who I am and not try to be anyone else. And I learned to stay connected to the reason I'd gotten involved in the first place: my desire to serve my community.