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Billionaire Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker discussed his role as a progressive Democrat in the Midwest and the influence of big money on politics at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum Monday evening.
The event was moderated by IOP Director Setti D. Warren — who was recently named to the permanent director role — and Chicago native Naomi M.S. Corlette ’25. It also included opening remarks from IOP Fellow Quentin Fulks, who was previously a campaign manager for Pritzker.
Pritzker, a Democrat who is in his second term as governor, has passed a number of progressive policies since taking office. During his tenure, he signed legislation raising the state minimum wage to $15 by 2025, legalized marajuana, and, in January, banned the sale and distribution of assault weapons.
But on Monday, Pritzker said he is more than just a progressive.
“You keep drilling in on the ‘progressive’ label, and you know what, I’m okay with that. But I just want to maybe modify it and say I would describe myself as a pragmatic progressive,” Pritzker said.
“I think it’s tell people what you believe, get elected on it, and then do it, and don’t compromise on the things that really matter to people’s lives,” he added.
During a question and answer session that followed the event, Pritzker — who is valued at $3.6 billion — was pressed by multiple students for self-funding his campaigns for governor.
“Do I think the self-funding campaigns are the answer to politics? No, absolutely not,” he said. “We need campaign finance reform both in Illinois and nationally.”
Responding to students, Pritzker said that his 2018 gubernatorial opponent — then-incumbent Governor Bruce V. Rauner — self-funded $50 million into his own campaign.
Pritzker said he believes Democrats must continue working within campaign finance laws as long as Republicans do, or they would give their opponents an edge in political races.
“We can’t let the other side essentially have the entire field while we are trying to do the right thing and get campaign finance reform passed,” he said.
At an IOP forum last month, New Hampshire Governor Chris T. Sununu said Pritzker would be an ideal challenger to Biden in the Democratic primary, saying he would “probably win” against the President.
When asked by Warren on Monday, Pritzker did not deny a potential presidential bid, but he affirmed that Biden is “running for reelection.”
“Joe Biden brings two things to the job that he’s demonstrated already,” Pritzker said. “He gets big things done, especially for working families and people who have gotten left out. And second, he’s probably the most empathetic person that has ever held the office, or at least in my lifetime — that is his superpower.”
Despite no public 2024 presidential aspirations, Pritzker said he will remain an active financial contributor to Democrats.
“I’m supporting candidates all over the United States with my resources,” Pritzker said.
“You might think that’s good or bad, but it’s not just supporting me — it’s about electing Democrats up and down the ticket in every state in the United States,” he added.
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