GLASGOW, Scotland (NEXSTAR) — On the largest stage of his political career, Governor J.B. Pritzker promoted Illinois as a state that is open for business to climate-friendly investors and companies in the clean energy sector.
Pritzker earned an invitation to address a side group at the United Nations Climate Change Conference along with three other Democratic governors two months after the Illinois General Assembly approved his clean energy initiative, and two weeks after they passed a tax incentive package for electric vehicle makers.
“Illinois has once again taken a leadership role by establishing a nation leading climate action plan,” Pritzker told the international audience. “We’re open for business in the state of Illinois for climate friendliness, striving to become the best state in the nation to drive an electric vehicle.”
Pritzker shared the stage with Governor Jay Inslee (D-Washington) who campaigned for president in the 2020 Democratic primary largely on a clean energy platform. Inslee and Pritzker playfully teased each other as they each claimed their state was leading the nation on addressing climate change.
“I do want to congratulate them,” Inslee said to Governors Pritzker, Kate Brown of Oregon, and David Ige of Hawaii. “They have tied for second place in the best climate change program in the United States.”
“I come from the greatest state in the United States,” Pritzker responded, adding, “We produced Barack Obama, and we are, of course, the land of Abraham Lincoln.”
“I’m here to say that in America’s heartland lies a state that’s taking strides to match the urgency of this moment,” Pritzker said. “Over a half a century ago, Illinois was the first state in the United States to create an Environmental Protection Agency. We’re proud of that legacy, and today, in 2021, Illinois has once again taken a leadership role by establishing a nation leading climate action plan.”
Before Pritzker can entertain any lofty goals of comparing climate change credentials with Inslee or other Democrats, perhaps in a 2024 presidential primary contest, he’ll have to face one of the Republicans running to challenge him for his job in 2022. While he’s using the trip to elevate his political profile, two of his would-be rivals attacked him on Twitter as being absent on the job or out of touch with working class struggles.
State senator Darren Bailey (R-Louisville) shared a picture of Pritzker sitting at a London pub with Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside), slamming them as “elites in Europe toasting while Illinoisans struggle to pay more for gas and groceries.”
Bailey opposed the 2019 capital infrastructure bill that more than doubled the state’s motor fuel taxes, voted against a bill to slightly reduce income taxes on people who earned less than $100,000 per year, and voted against a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Jesse Sullivan, a Republican venture capitalist who just recently entered the primary race, tried to change the conversation from climate change to crime. He tweeted a link to a Fox News article, and said, “While JB Pritzker was off drinking in Europe, nine people were killed and 39 wounded in Chicago.”
Sensitive to the recent rise in crime, Pritzker just signed a new executive order last week launching a new state Office of Firearm Violence Prevention, and pledged to spend $250 million in state funds to assist local violence prevention groups in communities across the state.
While he was on the stage in Scotland, Pritzker shared the credit with a handful of Illinois Republicans who voted to approve his clean energy deal, noting that they supported policies that promise to grow new jobs.
“I would have liked to have had a majority of Republican support for it. We weren’t able to get that. But we had some and I think that’s some progress,” Pritzker said while answering a reporter’s question about partisan gridlock around climate science. “I think what they shared in common, the folks who voted for it with us, was a real focus on job creation, real focus on, ‘This is about economic development as much as it is about saving our planet.'”
Pritzker’s re-election campaign did not respond to the Republican attacks.
Some of the accusations made by the Illinois Republican Party’s Twitter account were false or misleading. The ILGOP shared a picture of Pritzker sitting with Welch and Harmon raising glasses of beer without masks on and noted that Illinois still has a mask mandate. The implication that state leaders weren’t following their own rules ignores the obvious fact that mask mandates don’t apply to people sitting down to eat and drink in restaurants, not to mention the stringent travel requirements that they had to abide by, including a requirement that they prove their vaccination status before entering the country.
In the same tweet, the Illinois GOP falsely said “the three most powerful men in state government are abroad in London on taxpayer dime.” All three men in the photo paid their own way without using state funds, according to officials in each of their offices.
Later, a spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party said they were actually referring to travel expenses for government staffers, none of whom were pictured or referenced in the tweet. While an outside business development group covered the cost of the staff’s travel, Governor Pritzker’s office said they will use taxpayer funds to pay for staff lodging expenses. Two deputy governors, two other aides, and the governor’s chief of staff accompanied him on the trip.
“Our new climate plan is the most significant step that Illinois has taken in a generation toward a reliable, renewable, affordable, clean energy future,” Pritzker told the crowd. “Everyone here in Glasgow is acutely aware that when it comes to addressing climate change, there is so much more to do. We know that in the state of Illinois; but everything that can be done must be done.
“We’re not through,” he said. “We know there is more to do, and we will be hard at work at that. Climate change is a crisis that requires action now, but it’s also an opportunity: a chance to develop technologies, and to create jobs, and diversify our economies, and to lift up traditionally overburdened communities.”
The first aspects of Pritzker’s clean energy agenda start to kick in next year when Illinois residents can start to claim $4,000 rebates for purchasing an electric vehicle. Other manufacturing companies that make electric cars, batteries, or other charging stations can pay as little as zero in corporate state income tax over the next five years if they reach specific investment or hiring goals to build and grow jobs in Illinois.