BLOOMINGTON — For Sharon Fairley, fighting for justice is more than a campaign slogan.
"I was born in Washington, D.C., and raised by two dedicated public servants, both in education, who raised me to believe that I should go out and get the best education possible and then use it to make the world a better place," she said.
Fairley can remember that fight in every phase of her life: from the civil rights movement in the 1960s to the women's movement in the 1970s to breaking through in a male-dominated 1980s business culture, as a lawyer and now in the eight-candidate Democratic primary for attorney general March 20.
"I'm the only black woman in the race," she told The Pantagraph on Monday in Bloomington. "I've had to stand up to bullies and bigots my whole life, and (that's important for) someone who has the courage and tenacity to stand up to a bully like (President) Donald Trump."
Fairley, a former Illinois assistant attorney general under retiring Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said she has a unique resume to succeed Madigan. Fairley also served as a federal prosecutor and first deputy inspector general for the city of Chicago, where she helped establish the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
"I'm not a politician. I've never run for office. ... I love being a lawyer, and I believe the attorney general should be a person that loves the law, loves practicing law and is really good at it," she said. "I'm unbought and unbossed. I haven't taken money from political leaders, and I haven't taken money from special interest groups."
Fairley also touted her experience as a business leader — she holds a master's degree in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and she worked in marketing before going to law school.
"You have some lawyers in the race, but they don't have prosecutorial experience, or they might not have complex litigation experience. You have some prosecutors in the race that don't have the leadership experience. You have legislators who don't have that kind of leadership experience," said Fairley, of Chicago.
"There's a difference between legislating and litigating, and there's even a difference between signing a law ... and putting boots on the ground to enforce that law."
Fairley said she hopes to use that experience to change how the state enforces the law, stump for legislation and advise legislators on the legality of their bills. She said she would have told legislators their 2013 plan to overhaul pensions was unconstitutional, as the Illinois Supreme Court later decided.
Fairley said she hopes to lead on issues such as criminal justice reform, consumer protection, gun violence, public access and sexual harassment.
"They all embody serious, complex legal issues that the attorney general needs to step in and help sort out," she said. "I believe now, more than ever, we need someone ... to stand up for the people."