BLOOMINGTON — Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker showed why Laborers Local 362 endorsed him during a visit Thursday in Bloomington.

Pritzker, an entrepreneur and heir to the Hyatt hotels fortune, praised organized labor early and often during a stump speech that promoted mostly moderate solutions to state problems: better infrastructure, job creation, higher education, agriculture and manufacturing.

He also often attacked Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a popular target for unions after pushing right-to-work zones that would allow employers to work around union regulations, and feuding with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents state workers.

Republicans have claimed Pritzker has his own spotty history with labor, citing a messy dispute between Hyatt and employees who sought to unionize. The sides later reached terms on a contract.

"If Bruce Rauner wins another four years, there may not be any labor unions in this state. His Koch brothers network will have eviscerated unions all across the Midwest," said Pritzker. "We are an island (surrounded by right-to-work states). ... It's a target. That's what they see. We have to protect it."

He said Rauner has hurt job growth not only in his governance but by criticizing the way the state is run.

"We have to solve the problems that Bruce Rauner has brought to our state with 736 days of no budget, (and) then another crisis created by (education funding) when he wouldn't sign it. ... Jobs don't get created in an unstable environment," said Pritzker. "Why would you come here when the leader of the state says, 'Don't come?' ... I'll be your best chief marketing officer."

Pritzker's visit was the same day Rauner signed a new education funding bill into law, giving more funding to public school districts but also starting a program to give tax credits to residents who donate to private schools.

Pritzker has pledged to discontinue the tax credits.

"I don't want to siphon money off from the public school system into private schools. That's the wrong way to help people who want to go to private schools," he said.

State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, State Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, businessman Chris Kennedy and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar have also visited the Twin Cities to stump for the Democratic nod for governor in 2018.

When asked why voters should choose him among that field, Pritzker said his experience sets him apart, including serving as chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission for three years and founding 1871 Chicago, a small-business incubator that's created 7,000 jobs.

"This race isn't about money. It's about values," said Pritzker, a billionaire who has faced attacks from rivals for his wealth. "Ask the candidates what were they doing before they ran for public office, when they weren't thinking about running for public office, to really help people across the state of Illinois, and I think my record will (hold up)."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh


Staff Writer

Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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