Bailey, Pritzker spend first debate calling each other liars over crime, taxes, education, guns

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his Republican challenger Darren Bailey used an hourlong debate Thursday finding different ways to call each other "liar" with Election Day less than five weeks away.

The Democratic incumbent and the southern Illinois state senator disagreed over the other's handling of or position on the state budget, abortion and regulating guns as well as crime - particularly the justice system overhaul Pritzker signed last year known as the SAFE-T Act.

To Pritzker, the upstart Republican and relative legislative newcomer is a "hypocrite" on the issues for which he attacks the governor.

According to Bailey, Pritzker's handling of crime, property taxes and education is "crushing" the state, "all because J.B. Pritzker is hellbent on becoming the most radical leftist governor in America. ... This man is dangerous."

Pritzker, elected in 2018 amid the aftermath of a budget stalemate that left the state billions of dollars in debt, boasted before an audience at Illinois State University in Normal of the way he paid down debt and balanced the budget for four years. Bailey claimed that Pritzker did so with federal relief money for the COVID-19 pandemic and by not paying the full amount to fund employee pension systems.

Bailey contended he would cut taxes with a "reprioritization of spending" and zero-based budgeting. Pritzker said his management of the budget has proved successful and with billions of debt paid down, his continued leadership could mean lower taxes in the future.

Pritzker said he would not repeat his 2020 attempt to change the constitutionally required flat income tax to force wealthier residents to pay more, contending that his management of finances has produced budget surpluses the last two years.

Pritzker had $60 million in the bank on June 30 and has contributed $20 million of his own money since. Bailey had just under $2 million on hand last summer and raised $360,000 since.

Noting his fundraising for Democrats nationally and a trip last spring to New Hampshire, Bailey dramatically pulled from his vest pocket a paper he said is a pledge he has signed to serve a full four-year term and not duck out to run for president. Pritzker ignored Bailey's invitation to join in signing but said he planned to finish a second term and supports the reelection of President Joe Biden.

Like many Republicans seeking election this fall, Bailey has taken aim at the Pritzker-approved SAFE-T Act, a criminal justice system overhaul that, among other things, ends the use of cash bail for criminal suspects.

That means a "revolving door" for jails statewide, Bailey said while Pritzker interjected, "Lies. More lies. He's not telling the truth." "The criminal justice system that Darren Bailey and Republicans are standing up for is one that allows murderers and rapists and domestic abusers to buy their way out of jail," Pritzker said.

Among other critics, an Illinois Supreme Court panel has recommended bail reform, noting the economic damage done to someone who can't afford to pay.

Pritzker also called Thursday for a federal ban on what have been called assault-style weapons like the type used in the July Fourth mass shooting in Highland Park, saying, "No one should have that kind of firepower." However, he defended not having a statewide ban on such weapons in place because the General Assembly has set up a task force to study the issue.

Pritzker's defense came after he criticized Bailey for suggesting the study of another issue - free community colleges - with other state leaders.

After the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion, Pritzker promised legislative action to strengthen abortion access in Illinois, which already allows virtually unfettered access to abortion up to the point of fetal viability, with abortion allowed after viability when the mother's health or life is in jeopardy.

Thursday, Pritzker said he didn't support changes to allow abortion beyond viability - about 24 to 26 weeks.

"The law that we have in place now ... is what we should keep in place," Pritzker said.

The Democrat has promoted Bailey's opposition to abortion rights in numerous political ads, but Bailey reiterated Thursday he wouldn't press the issue because it's unlikely to win a Democratic Legislature's approval.

"My focus is going to be crime, taxes and education," Bailey said. " ... J.B. Pritzker wants to fearmonger and put all of this nonsense out there (about abortion) that can't be changed anyway. And it needs to stop. We need to focus on uniting this state."

State Sen. Darren Bailey, right, the Republican candidate for Illinois governor, and incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker debate Thursday on the stage in Braden Auditorium at the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. Ron Johnson/Illinois State University via AP, Pool
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.