BLOOMINGTON — J.B. Pritzker thinks the Democratic Party needs to rebuild to revitalize Illinois — and he wants to help.
Pritzker, a Democratic candidate for governor, hopes to push Democrats across Illinois to promote a set of "kitchen-table issues" that can create jobs, promote education and bring Illinois back to its former glory, he told The Pantagraph Editorial Board during a meeting Friday in Bloomington.
The Hyatt hotels heir has poured $49 million into his campaign fund, positioning him to give Democrats the kind of comprehensive, across-the-ballot funding Republicans have gotten from Gov. Bruce Rauner — an effort that could help him work more closely with Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan of Chicago.
"(You) provide the vision and the leadership, and then you drive toward the goal, bringing people along with you. I think there's been too little of that in Springfield," said Pritzker. "We're looking for ways to make it easier for working-class and middle-class families in this state to stay."
That includes a wide range of initiatives, including promoting small business, making college more affordable, adding a public option for health care, instituting a progressive income tax and legalizing recreational marijuana use.
"As Democrats, we need to address the fundamental issues ... job creation, trying to raise wages through job creation for our labor unions, but also a quality education for every child no matter where they live in the state and universal health care," said Pritzker. "I don't think that message has been core enough for the Democratic party for too many years."
Pritzker touted his experience with small business, including founding tech incubator 1871 Chicago, which has created 7,000 jobs, he said. He hopes to start a small business loan program and offer technical assistance and mentorship.
"Two thirds of the jobs created in the state of Illinois are created by small businesses and start-up businesses, but there's no big lobby that's really working for (them)," he said. "I'll be in the governor's office, and I'll be their best advocate."
Pritzker tied job growth to education, from early childhood to colleges, universities and vocational.
"If you want to have a bright economic future for your state, don't lose your best resources which are our people," he said. "We have historically, and I believe still ... the best-educated and most-dedicated workforce in the nation. It's why a company like Amazon would even consider moving to the state of Illinois, even in the condition the state is."
Other candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor are State Sen. Daniel Biss, businessman Chris Kennedy, school Superintendent Bob Daiber, activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall.
The primary election is March 20, and the general election is Nov. 6.