CHICAGO —Gov. Bruce Rauner and challenger J.B. Pritzker clashed over immigration and Chicago violence Tuesday with the Republican chief executive alleging immigrants living illegally in Illinois are a factor in the city's crime problem while the Democrat said they contribute to Illinois' economy.
The comments came during an often chippy forum between the two major candidates before the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board. It was the second-to-last joint appearance between Rauner and Pritzker leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
Both men frequently interrupted the other over controversies dogging each candidate. Rauner lobbed the term "tax cheat" to reference a Cook County inspector general's report that contended Pritzker was involved in a "scheme to defraud" taxpayers over a property-tax reduction. Pritzker tossed out the phrase "criminal investigation" to refer to Attorney General Lisa Madigan's probe of the Rauner administration's handling of deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreaks at a state veterans home in Quincy.
Rauner, who has been trailing Pritzker by double digits in independently conducted polls, indicated the need to continue to heal a core GOP constituency, social conservatives, over his latest remarks on immigration. Social conservatives have been upset with Rauner's signature on laws that expanded immigration, abortion and transgender rights.
Rauner sought to make clear that he signed legislation preventing law enforcement from stopping someone solely on their immigration status only because it was backed by law enforcement.
"Illegal immigration takes jobs away from Americans. It holds down wages, hurts union workers, farm workers, factory workers, hurts wages and raises unemployment," Rauner said.
"One of the reasons we have such high unemployment in the city of Chicago and so much crime is the massive number of illegal immigrants here take jobs away from American citizens and Chicago citizens," he contended, adding that Pritzker wants to make Illinois a "sanctuary state."
But Pritzker said the state needed someone to stand up against President Donald Trump's efforts to crack down on immigrants entering and living in the country illegally. "They are good for the economy of the state of Illinois," he said.
"The fact is that we're not going to send 11 or 12 million people outside the United States. That shouldn't be done. We have a state that should be a welcoming state," said Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune.
Asked if immigrants in Illinois illegally were a burden, Pritzker said: "No. I am explaining that what we need to do is protect the immigrants that are here in our state. We have immigrants here who are not protected, under attack by President Trump. He (Rauner) stands with President Trump on this. I do not."
Both candidates acknowledged the need to improve reporting of sexual harassment claims in the era of the #MeToo movement -- though Rauner used the issue to attack the House speaker.
"Unfortunately what's come to light over the last three years is there has been extensive sexual harassment and mistreatment of women and others in the legislature, in the Democratic Party and Speaker Madigan has had his most senior, most trusted officers and lieutenants in the Democratic Party and in the General Assembly be accused of sexual harassment and many have stepped down as a result," said Rauner.
Pritzker said he criticized Madigan for failing to move quickly to deal with sexual harassment issues but said the problem wasn't relegated to one political party.
"I have called out Speaker Madigan and I have called out both Democrats and Republicans because this doesn't just happen on one side of the aisle. There's sexual harassment in the Republican Party and people should be held responsible there, too," the Democrat said.
The final face-to-face meeting of the candidates is scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday in Quincy.