Nothing was off-limits in an hourlong sit-down with Gov. Bruce Rauner at the Chicago Defender’s office, 4445 S. King Dr., on Feb. 10.
Rauner’s visit came on the heels of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s announcement for a proposed $2.7 billion expansion project of the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway, of which the governor pledged to reserve contract opportunities for minority-owned businesses. He stressed the importance of construction crews being representative of the communities where projects are located.
The governor applauded the Illinois Tollway Authority’s (ITA) efforts to increase diversity in its contractors and suppliers. Specifically, he credited his ITA appointees — Robert Schillerstrom, Joseph Gomez, Rev. Corey Brooks of New Beginnings Church of Chicago, 6620 S. King Dr., among others — for spearheading inclusion efforts. Since 2015, the ITA tripled the number of minority contracts set aside — from eight to 24 — compared to the standard set by the Quinn administration, according to Rauner. Additionally, more than 36 percent of contracts issued for professional service firms have been awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses.
Criminal Justice Reform
Since the beginning of the Rauner Administration, headway has been made on addressing Illinois’ staggering prison population.
In 2015, Rauner signed Executive Order 14 to commission the creation of the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, with the directive to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025. In December 2016, the commission released the second of two reports that offered 27 recommendations to achieve its goal. Thus far, the state has reduced its prison population by 10 percent, according to Rauner.
The full report, including recommendation information, can be viewed at https://www.icjia.org/cjreform2015/index.html.
“We have to change our criminal justice system. It shouldn’t be just about punishment, it shouldn’t be just about putting people in jail and throwing away the key,” said Rauner, who cited mental health and drug treatment as key to addressing recidivism. “We have to focus on what’s the cause of criminal behavior.”
He vowed to reserve revenue in the state’s budget to implement all the reforms proposed by the commission. The governor noted State Sen. Kwame Raoul (Dist. 13), a commissioner on the criminal justice reform report, and State Rep. La Shawn Ford (Dist. 8) have been key contributors throughout the criminal justice reform process.
Chicago’s Gun Violence
Not much was discussed in terms of addressing Chicago’s gun violence; however, Rauner disagreed with President Donald Trump’s tweet that suggested the deployment of the “Feds” was a proper method to address the issue. He said after speaking with experts on the topic, “Nobody thinks sending in the National Guard or federal troops is a good idea.”
The National Guard should be deployed only during riots and other extreme situations, said Rauner.
All levels of education are of the utmost importance to the state’s top elected official.
Public education is a right and every parent in America should have “outstanding” public education options for their children – including charter schools – which are a part of the public school system, Rauner said. He claimed there’s a “monopoly” on public education in terms of learning structure and called for competition and innovation.
In response to claims that charters’ selective enrollment restricts certain students – namely minorities – from attending, Rauner said he hasn’t seen any documented instances but is willing to take all claims of discrimination seriously. He said the unionization of charter school teachers should be based on teachers’ and charters’ discretion.
But where does the embattled Chicago State University fit into the governor’s support of public education? While the governor pledged to provide CSU with more funding in the state’s budget, he said “no comment” when asked if he would approve equitable instead of equal funding to address capital projects, campus staff, and other items that would transform the South Side institution. He pointed the finger at CSU’s former leadership for its current state of affairs and suggested it has received patronage from elected officials in Springfield.
“Chicago State has been mismanaged, there’s been some bad behavior there,” said Rauner. “Their financial and educational performances are not any that any reasonable person would want to have. That’s just true, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a great place and provide a high quality of service.”
And Rauner said he was unaware of any allegations that CSU only awarded a small percentage of its contracts to minority-owned vendors, but vowed to look into the issue.
“I would think that Chicago State would especially be very supportive and sensitive to the issue of diversity and inclusion in their contracting,” said Rauner.
Rauner, who recently appointed an advisory board to assist CSU, explained his selections – including former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas – were based on his familiarity with them and their integrity.
U.S. Department of Education
Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has the governor’s confidence, according to a report by The Chicago Tribune, despite what some perceived to be a lack of relevant experience in public education. DeVos has been widely criticized for calling the U.S. public school system a “dead end.” Yet, Rauner said he does not see a conflict in his support of DeVos despite saying he and his wife, Diana, have always fought for high-quality public education.