Juliana Stratton already serves in the Illinois House of Representatives, and she wants to make history as the first Black lieutenant governor in the state’s history. She tells EBONY that if elected, she will work to grant access to health care to every Illinoisan and take on criminal justice initiatives.
Why did you decide to run for this office?
My first campaign was for local school council at the public school my daughters and I attended because I wanted to be a voice on quality public education and [ensuring] all children had access to a quality education. I thought the best way to do that was to run for the local school council in Chicago. When I assumed that role, I was able to have an impact on a school. When I ran for state representative—which was prompted because I knew I was not getting the representation that we needed or deserved in our community—that was a way to expand the reach and the work I was passionate about.
The opportunity to run for lieutenant governor with J.B. Pritzker was taking it to that next step [to do] the kind of work for equality, criminal justice reform, for access to opportunity. To be able to provide some leadership for all residents of Illinois and to be able to do so with someone I’m thrilled to be on the ticket with.
There’s a belief that people of color are often targeted by law enforcement and treated unfairly in the eyes of the law. How would you tackle that issue as lieutenant governor?
Criminal and juvenile justice reform has been important to me for a long time, not just as an elected official but as a resident of our state and as a citizen of the U.S., where we see a disproportionate number of Black . . . people being incarcerated. We know that mass incarceration is an issue across our country; it disrupts whole communities. Some of the bills I was able to get signed into law as state representative include ending preschool expulsion. Black and Brown preschoolers were getting expelled disproportionately, particularly the boys. When preschoolers get expelled, there’s a much greater likelihood they’ll drop out of high school. When people talk about the school-to-prison pipeline, I talk about how there’s really a preschool-to-prison pipeline.
J.B. and I have proposed a new office of criminal justice reform and economic opportunity, which I would lead in our administration. So many times the reason people end up in our criminal justice system is because of a lack of economic opportunity, and when people get out of our criminal justice system too often they cycle back into the system [for that reason]. Yes, we have to tackle what’s happening in our jails and prisons, but we also have to address the lack of investment in communities that have suffered decades of disinvestment. How we bring real economic investment and opportunities to those communities and that’s where we’ll find real justice reform.
What other issues are you running on?
We have had—and I’ve seen it firsthand as a state representative—a governor in Illinois who decided very early on that it was his way or the highway and he was not going to work with the legislature, he was not willing to work with leadership; he’s someone who has his own personal agenda, and it was really an agenda focused on destroying organized labor. Therefore, we ended up going 736 days without a budget because he was unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Illinois has suffered for that.
First and foremost, we intend to be the kind of administration that will work with people who we [ensure will] get big things done for our state. We can no longer afford the damage that’s been done by having someone who had his own personal agenda rather than putting forward what’s important for the residents of our state.
Having said that, over the year that I’ve been traveling the state, we have been listening to Illinoisans. We have been getting into places, not just in urban areas, but in southern and central Illinois. Here is what we hear all across the state:
First, we have to make sure we fight for health care as a right and not a privilege; every family should have access to quality affordable health care. Every Illinoisan should have access to a doctor. That’s something we’ll be fighting for and will stand against any efforts in Washington that tries to cut back on access to health care. Second, education. We have to properly fund our public school system in Illinois and bring some equity to our school system that too often relies on property taxes. We want to see those barriers removed for every child, regardless of race, gender and socioeconomic status.
The third thing that comes up most is job creation. J.B. and I have put forth concrete plans around small business development and how they increase access to capital. We have a specific economic inclusion plan that’s focused on how to help those in communities that are too often forgotten, particular communities of color, to ensure they can be lifted up to access to capital, to start small businesses, technical assistance and mentoring to expand and grow those businesses. When we see people being able to start and grow their businesses, but also have access to … get state contracts. This is how we turn communities around. It’s simply not enough to talk about big companies coming in and getting jobs; we have to create wealth and prosperity in our communities by allowing people to start businesses, then let the economy circulate so people don’t have to go miles away to buy a product.
And also, to hire. Two-thirds of all jobs in our state are created through small businesses. If we can create new businesses and help people start businesses that are sustained, that’s really going to change the economy and communities that have suffered.
There was a report from NBC Chicago that former staffers of color filed a lawsuit alleging mistreatment on the campaign, and they spoke to you and J.B. about it. Would you care to comment on that?
I stand by our campaign. J.B. and I have run an incredibly inclusive campaign, and we highly value our campaign staff. Half of our senior staff is African-American, and about 45 percent of our entire team is comprised of people of color; we’re very proud of that. We’re going to continue doing what we have been doing. We received a letter requesting $7.5 million from the campaign, and we had to respond by the next business day or else additional legal action would be taken. I am very proud of our campaign and the work we have done to be inclusive and to be in communities all across this state.
There’s been additional information that has come out that kind of contradicts what has been mentioned. Anytime someone wants to bring a complaint, I believe they have the right to be heard. This particular group wanted to go to court, and we stand ready to address those issues through the legal process.
Why is it important for people to go out and vote?
I do really believe this is one of the most important elections in our history. What we see on the national level and the way that there’s such a strategic level to strip us of the rights that are so important to all of us. Things like health care and access to education. The fact that voter suppression is on the rise . . . and I know your readership understands that the right to vote was not handed to us but demanded by us. It’s incumbent upon us to exercise our right to vote because our vote is our voice. When we vote, it’s our way of saying what issues and values are important to us. We need everyone to . . . exercise that right.
When people are talking about voter suppression around the country, I really want people to understand that . . . all across the country, there are efforts big and small to try to suppress the vote and to keep people from the polls, specifically in communities of color, and that’s unacceptable.
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