By TIM ALEXANDER
LEXINGTON, Ill. — Illinois gubernatorial and U.S. Senate nominees met Wednesday, August 24 at the Schuler Farm in McLean County for an agricultural “roundtable” hosted by the Illinois Ag Leadership Foundation. Facing questions from moderator Richard Guebert, Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau, were Governor JB Pritzker, a Democrat who is running for a second, four-year term this November, and State Senator Darren Bailey, the Republican challenger. Also on the ticket were incumbent U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from the 8th Illinois Congressional District, and her challenger, Republican Kathy Salvi.
“Four years ago I stood before you to promise I was ready to take on the big challenges facing Illinois, including those facing farmers,” said Pritzker, who arrived via bus to the rally along with his wife, MK Pritzker, Ill. Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton and Ill. Dept. of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello. “At the time we had terrible mismanagement of our fiscal situation by my predecessor who sent the state budget into a spiral. It hurt the agriculture industry — I think you all felt that — and our rural communities and pension liability. You deserve a governor who works day in and day out as hard as you do.”
Pritzker detailed the challenges farmers have faced in recent years, including a global health crisis, natural disasters, supply chain issues, increasing input costs and more. He also went into detail about state-level responses to these events that were offered to farmers by his administration.
“Through it all I’ve stood with you,” Pritzker said. “I’ve provided millions for business recovery funding, including poultry farms that suffered disruptions due to the pandemic. I’ve worked to secure international commitments to purchase Illinois corn and soybeans because when Illinois’ agricultural economy thrives, so do working families across our state. I’ve preserved the state’s tax exemption on purchases of agricultural equipment.
“I’ve also taken steps to grow the state agricultural sector. When I took office we put forward a five-year economic plan that sought to boost growth in the agriculture sector by facilitating technology adoption, encouraging innovation and boosting connections with our global partners.”
Pritzker pointed out how Rauner had “zeroed out” state funding for agricultural education and county soil and water conservation districts during his term in the governor’s office, which he had restored. He also touted his recent announcement that the state would pay the membership costs of all Illinois FFA students, and the enhancement of funding for rural mental health resources.
The governor concluded his 13 minute delivery by promising to work to incentivize biodiesel production, extend support for year-round E85 availability and support research grants for biofuels. He touted his “restoration” of state government during the past four years, including six federal credit rating upgrades and a balanced state budget.
Speaking prior to Pritzker’s arrival, Bailey, a farmer from Xenia, began his five minute speech by announcing that it was “time to put a farmer” in the governor’s mansion. “I will work to create new markets and new opportunities for farmers. The problems that are hog-tying the farm community are the same bonehead policies our current governor JB Pritzker and his pals (made) that are creating the problems that we have in Illinois. Let’s start with taxes. Illinois has one of the highest estate taxes in the country.”
The far-right Bailey lambasted Pritzker’s tax policies while promising to “work hard” to repeal estate taxes, which he said “steal the sweat equity we farmers will spend a lifetime (acquiring). “The governor steals it from our families, just to give it to Springfield.” He also promised to work to repeal eminent domain policies that “now exist again through the recent Energy Bill,” and curtail rising energy costs. In addition, Bailey warned farmers that “rolling brownouts” could soon be coming to rural communities due to energy mismanagement.
“I have several counties in my district that went through three-hour brownouts for the first time ever,” said the 55th District State Senator. “It’s coming, it’s for real and it’s got to be addressed. Illinois was an energy exporter until recently. Now we’re on our hands and knees begging to buy energy.”
Bailey called Pritzker’s climate goals, which somewhat align with those of the Biden administration, “impractical,” and promised to manage energy transmission “more responsibly and in a way that we can keep the lights on.”
“It’s Joe Biden and JB Pritker that created this problem,” said Bailey. “We will show them what is possible when good people refuse to sit on the sidelines and refuse to settle. You know you can’t clear a field of weeds unless you pull them out by their roots.”
Pritzker did not refer to Bailey in his remarks other than to accuse his gubernatorial challenger of lying about his energy policies and the federal Energy Bill. “I want to be clear about some of the things he said to you. Darren Bailey is lying to you about the Energy Bill. There is nothing in the Energy Bill that makes it easier to impose eminent domain. Nothing, absolutely nothing. And there are no brownouts in Illinois that have anything to do with the Energy Bill. The Energy Bill has not closed off any energy production,” said Pritzker.
During her time at the podium, Duckworth extolled her past record as both a U.S. representative and senator, and laid the groundwork for her future plans if reelected. She expressed support for several bills facing lawmakers, including the Next Generation Fuels Act she had recently introduced in the Senate. She also promised to continue to seek funding to develop and promote biofuels, strengthen ag trade partnerships, increase waterways funding and raise recommended volume obligations (RVOs) for biofuel production.
“Strengthening biofuels is a matter of national security,” said Duckworth.
Challenger Salvi, a newcomer to the state political arena, appeared to be out of her depth during a Q&A session regarding some of the issues facing farmers, including the topic of funding for foreign animal disease prevention — one of the top priorities of the Illinois Pork Producers Association and a talking point for the 2023 Farm Bill. On more than one occasion, the Chicago-area personal injury lawyer offered to vote however the farm sector would direct her on issues affecting agriculture.
“Have you ever heard the story about the squeaky wheel getting the grease?” Salvi asked. “I want to be your squeaky wheel.”
To view complete raw footage of the presentations of Pritzker, Bailey, Duckworth and Salvi, visit the Illinois Farm Bureau website at farmweeknow.com/vote2022.