By AARON GETTINGER
When talking about his lawmaking career in Springfield, Sen. Kwame Raoul (13th) proudly cites his work in consumer protection, the abolition of the death penalty, criminal justice reform, law enforcement reform, the promotion of voting rights and access to healthcare.
Asked why he’s running for Illinois attorney general, he answered, “It’s a great thing to put policy out there. It’s another thing to have the capacity to put policy out there and be able to enforce it as well.”
On the distinctions between him and his Republican opponent, Champaign lawyer Erika Harold, Raoul attacked her notion that the office they seek is purely political.
“I don’t look at keeping families together as purely political,” said Raoul, in reference to the Trump Administration’s separation of migrant families at the U.S. – Mexico border.
A Chicago native and DePaul University alumnus who earned a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Raoul was appointed to the Illinois Senate seat vacated by then-rising Democratic Party star Barack Obama in 2004. His political career has unfolded in the shadow of his predecessor, a once-in-a-generation political talent — until now.
Nationwide, state attorneys general have attained greater prominence over the past two presidencies, as Republicans repeatedly sued Obama to block his environmental regulations and Democrats have responded in kind over President Trump’s deregulation of environmental, educational and energy standards and immigration policies.
The son of Haitian immigrants, Raoul does not hold back when talking about the actions of the president and U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. He is critical of their retreat from protecting citizens from state and local government overreach, and he says their actions highlight the importance of state attorneys general.
He referenced the Chicago Police Department consent decree that mandates systemic changes in the force’s policies, including discipline, recruitment, training and supervision — all to be held to compliance by the courts. Former Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch began the process in the waning days of the Obama Administration before Sessions dropped it, at which point Lisa Madigan, the incumbent Illinois attorney general, took over from the feds.
With 2018 appearing to be a good year for the Democratic Party across the United States and Illinois’ true blue politics, one might think the race is Raoul’s to lose, but Raoul is taking nothing for granted. Midwestern politics are in flux; Illinois has elected many Republicans to statewide offices; and Harold, a former Miss America, has attempted to soften her reputation for social conservatism and has attracted hefty campaign contributions. Chicago’s major newspapers split their endorsements.
As a big state in the middle of the country that reflects its nationwide demographics, Raoul believes the Prairie State must lead the others.
Raoul believes Illinois needs to be a leader among the states. Illinois has embraced the Affordable Care Act, and Raoul notes that Harold ran for Congress vowing to repeal it. While his opponent now calls for the protection of patients with preexisting conditions, Raoul notes that one must have health insurance that diagnoses the condition, treats it and pays for the care. He said Harold is promoting “smoke-and-mirrors coverage.”
Should he succeed a Democratic incumbent, Raoul notes that he would not be starting work from scratch. Nevertheless he described some of his personal priorities. He voiced strong support for a proposal he called police licensing, noting that the state licenses physicians, lawyers and other professions and that the overseeing commissions have the ability to take individual licenses away. Raoul said such a state system “doesn’t exist for those licensed to carry deadly force.”
“There is certification for officers,” he said, “but the only way you really lose your certification is if you’re convicted of a felony.
A police licensing commission would require General Assembly action in order to exist, and Raoul struck distinction from Harold by his strong interest in working with the legislature, which will surely be controlled by state Democrats, should he be elected.
“Lisa Madigan and I spoke recently about this notion that [Harold’s] personal views don’t matter, that her sole job is to enforce the law. That is not the sole job of the attorney general,” Raoul said. The police union “is not crazy about” a police licensing commission, he said, but other chiefs and sheriffs like the idea because it would ease their ability to not hire officers who had done their jobs poorly at other departments.
In addition to protecting Obamacare and coverage for preexisting conditions, Raoul wants to make sure poor people’s access to healthcare is not compromised by Illinois’ use of a managed care model of Medicaid.
Raoul said that the model promotes preventive care and stamps out fraud but that he has heard from health care providers that valid claims for payment for treatment have been denied for Medicaid enrollees. The result is a mess of paperwork for approval, and Raoul said he fears that the process is trying to effect savings by preserving “a process that is so burdensome that providers will give up in appealing,” creating a system wherein providers will refuse to serve Illinoisans enrolled in Medicaid.
He tied attorneys’ general promotion of consumer protection to keeping up with technological evolution, expressing wariness of voice-activated programs like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri that are always listening. As attorney general, Raoul would also be chairman of the Illinois Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force; he said many law enforcement professionals are not trained to identify online child pornographers and predators and said he would work to expand such training across the state.
Raoul ducked discussion of what he would do about the federal lawsuit filed that seeks to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center; Protect Our Parks cites state law in its court arguments.
“What I try not to do is weigh in on things when I’m not fully informed,” he said. Clarifying that he was speaking in general and not as a candidate, he said, “I think the important thing in evaluating the Obama Presidential Center and Library is to have good, open dialogue and to value the potential investment in the community, but to be sure that folks who have been in the community are protected and benefit from this development.”
At the close of the interview, Raoul gave a full-throated rebuke of Harold, a “self-described social conservative” who “believes in denying women access to reproductive healthcare, even when they’ve been raped or the victim of incest” and her stated acceptance of the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage comes at a time when the justice who wrote the majority opinion is no longer on the bench.
While Harold supports the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which has been attacked as racially biased and on privacy grounds, Raoul passed legislation, vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, to take Illinois out of the program.
“For voters in Hyde Park, the choice should be easy,” said Raoul. “I’ve authored what I believe are strongest voting rights protections in the country, in the Voting Rights Act and the constitutional amendment to protect voting rights. Then you add beyond our personal views, and it’s ultimately a question of experience,” referencing his quarter century-long career as a lawyer, negotiation of labor contracts, litigation in federal and state courts and work in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.