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Extreme takeover? Pritzker and Bailey accuse one another of being an extremist who is dangerous to Illinois

Republican gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey, left, and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, participate in their second and final debate at WGN Studios on Tuesday, October 18 2022.

It was the second and final debate between the two gubernatorial hopefuls Tuesday night, and both came prepared for combat, ready to dish it out — and not take any of the other’s jabs lying down.

CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker blasted his Republican challenger as an “extremist” and a “threat to democracy” who “shouldn’t be let anywhere near the governor’s office,” — as state Sen. Darren Bailey countered the Democratic incumbent was the extreme one, and his “arrogant leadership is killing people.”

It was the second and final debate between the two gubernatorial rivals Tuesday night, and both came prepared for combat, ready to dish it out — and not take any of the other’s jabs lying down.

“He is frankly too extreme for Illinois,” Pritzker said. “Darren Bailey is out of touch with the entire state of Illinois.”

But Bailey accuses Pritzker of pushing “woke ideology” in schools across Illinois.

“His gender issues are so extreme,” Bailey said. “Gov. Pritzker is perfectly fine injecting his gender curriculum, the first of its kind in the nation, into our schools. Woke ideology. I think that’s extreme.”

With early voting underway and Election Day just three weeks away, Pritzker defended his record and deemed Bailey’s policies to be too “dangerous” for Illinois. And Bailey, with a smile, bated the governor repeatedly, frequently interrupting his answers.

The interjections, mostly by Bailey, were met with stern warnings from WGN-TV moderator Micah Materre. There was also an exasperated, “Shh” as Bailey tried to talk after a buzzer went off.

Bailey, who has called Chicago everything from a “hellhole” to an “an unruly child” and the “OK Corral,” introduced a new moniker for the city: “Pritzkerville.”

“I want to call it Pritzkerville because every one of Gov. Pritzker’s extreme policies are destroying the city, out of control crime, devastated education, the fact that corporations are packing up and leaving every day,” Bailey said.

After finding himself largely on the defensive in their first televised debate nearly two weeks ago, Pritzker came out swinging, dubbing Bailey “a Trump extremist” in his opening statement.

“Darren Bailey is a threat to democracy. He’s surrounded himself with Jan. 6th insurrectionists. … He shouldn’t be let anywhere near the governor’s office.”

Pritzker accused Bailey of having no plan to address crime, beyond criticizing Chicago. the governor took credit for increasing the number of police officers, eliminating the rape kit backlog and funding violence intervention, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs in the state to help combat crime.

“Darren Bailey voted against all of those things,” Pritzker said. “He’s got no plan.”

Pritzker defended his years in office and ticked off his accomplishments, including paying off the state’s overdue bills, raising the minimum wage and protecting abortion rights.

“And I did all of that while fighting a deadly global pandemic, saving lives and livelihoods,” Pritzker said. “I’ve done my job so working families can do theirs.”

Pritzker acknowledged some of the flaws in his administration, when asked specifically about the Department of Children and Family Services’ failures and confusion and proposed changes over the SAFE-T Act, a package of criminal justice reforms that has been criticized by Republicans and state’s attorneys.

Of DCFS, Pritzker said, “I’m never going to be satisfied. We have vulnerable children in our state.”

Of the SAFE-T Act, Pritzker said, “I think we ought to be looking through all those provisions to decide which ones … we ought to implement.”

But Bailey blamed the governor for everything from COVID-19 deaths of veterans, DCFS’s failures and Chicago’s street violence.

“Let’s talk about what’s really destroying our state,” Bailey said. “Gov. Pritzker, your incompetent and arrogant leadership is killing people. Thirty-six of our patrons at our LaSalle Veterans Home. Your fault. Nine children in the DCFS. That’s your fault. Over 600 deaths in Chicago, Your fault. It’s time for change.”

Bailey, who sought and received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in the primary, again distanced himself from the former president.

The state senator and downstate farmer has been walking a fine line with general election voters, not talking about many of his conservative primary positions, including his vocal support for Trump and his push to repeal some of the state’s abortion rights laws.

“I am in charge of my campaign,” Bailey said of Trump. “We’re the ones making the decisions. And I’m grateful for his endorsement.” He declined to say whether he’d support a Trump reelection campaign.

On abortion rights laws in Illinois, which he said in April that he would try to repeal by communicating the “ideals of hope,” Bailey said he “can’t do anything in today’s climate” if elected.

“Darren Bailey constantly talks about repealing the SAFE-T Act on Day One, but then at the same time, he says he can’t repeal reproductive rights. Which is it?” Pritzker said. “Either he doesn’t understand the legislative process, or he’s lying about his positions.”

Both were asked to grade how Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx are doing in their jobs. Pritzker wouldn’t notch a grade. Bailey gave them an F.

“I don’t like to give letter grades, but I will tell you there’s a lot that needs to be done,” Pritzker said of Foxx and Lightfoot. “There’s no doubt about it.”

The debate ended on a rare positive note, when both were asked to name something they admire about each other. Pritzker said he admired that Bailey married his high school sweetheart, Cindy, and has been married for 36 years.

Bailey went a different route.

“Governor Pritzker, I’m going to be honest with you. You look awesome. I like your suit. You look good in it, and I think that’s awesome,” Bailey said. “I hope that after the election we could come to terms and maybe you could take me suit shopping.”

Tina Sfondeles is the chief political reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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