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Kwame Raoul

Democratic candidate for Attorney General

Kwame Raoul

Kwame Raoul

Democratic candidate for Attorney General

Chicago-Kent College of Law (J.D., 1993), DePaul University (B.A. in Political Science, 1987)
State Senator; partner, health law group, Quarles & Brady
Past Political/Civic Experience
Illinois State Senate and three time delegate to the Democratic National Convention

Responses to our questions

Please explain how you would hit the ground running. On Day 1, what would your primary focus for the office be? How would you reorganize, if at all, the direction of the attorneys who report to you?

My primary focus on day one will be assessing the staff resources assigned to each division of the Office of the Attorney General and determining where additional resources and focus are needed in order to better leverage the authority of the office toward the public good. Specifically, I intend to adequately staff the Public Access Division to eliminate the backlog of FOIA requests and complaints; expand the Workplace Rights Bureau so allegations of labor law violations can be thoroughly and promptly investigated and prosecuted and direct crime victims' resources toward those neighborhoods and populations most devastated by the scourge of violent crime. I will also immediately appoint an individual in my office to be its point person for criminal justice reform policy.

Please explain in detail your legal experience and/or any areas of legal or policy expertise.

During my 24 years of practicing law in the public and private sector and 13 years in the state Senate, I have been involved in a wide variety of law and policy issues related to the duties of the attorney general's office, including voting rights, workers' rights, criminal justice, public safety, consumer protection, education, health care, workers compensation, the environment, the rights of domestic violence and sexual assault victims and the protection of working families. I have served as a prosecutor, practiced education and health law, represented workers in labor and employment cases, represented those falsely accused of crimes and taken on civil rights cases.

While serving in the General Assembly, I actively advanced policies such as the abolition of the death penalty, comprehensive law enforcement reform, sentencing reform, protections for victims of domestic violence and limits on excessive payroll debit card fees. With this background, I am uniquely qualified to transition from legislating to prosecuting, advocating and enforcing as the state's Attorney General. In particular, my experience crafting and passing criminal justice reform legislation will allow me to use the office of Attorney General to continue making Illinois' justice system more equitable and effective. My track record speaks for itself and for my ability to handle threats facing this state and its people as they arise.

Have you ever tried a case? Civil or criminal? If so, how many?

I have tried approximately 40 to 50 cases, both civil and criminal, as well as cases before an Administrative Law Judge. Cases I have brought to trial have encompassed torts, employment law, child welfare and workers' compensation, among other areas of law. I have argued cases at the trial and appellate court levels.

How would you prioritize the resources of the office?

Having sponsored the legislation that created the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General's Office, I plan to properly resource the office so as to eliminate the backlog of FOIA and Open Meetings Act complaints. Long delays in responding to such complaints from the public and the media defeat the purpose of having a dedicated Public Access Counselor and frustrate the intent of the legislation: to improve the transparency of government and allow sunshine to deter corruption.

Another of my priorities as attorney general will be responding quickly and effectively to allegations of labor law violations. As a sponsor of legislation to expand the Workplace Rights Bureau, I will adequately staff this division in order to handle complaints of wage theft, failure to pay prevailing wage, employee misclassification and other violations by employers against their workers.

Third, I will continue the work I began in the General Assembly on criminal justice reform. I will use the office's "bully pulpit" and my role as an advocate to urge passage of commonsense provisions related to sentencing, probation and parole, bail and bond, juvenile justice, expungement and rehabilitation programs. I will work in my new role to maintain Illinois' progress away from just being tough on crime and toward being smart on crime by giving second chances to nonviolent offenders, cracking down on repeat gun offenders and appropriately focusing the resources of the corrections and justice systems.

Finally, I would bring to fruition the pilot trauma center program I pushed for in the General Assembly in order to address trauma stemming from the violent crime that ravages already under-resourced communities. Evidence shows that untreated trauma feeds the cycle of violent crime when violence becomes normalized in a community and victims are disproportionately likely to become the next perpetrators. I believe we must follow where this evidence leads and establish policies that do not merely respond to gun violence, but prevent it by addressing its underlying causes.

Should the attorney general's grand jury authority be expanded to intensify the role of the AG in fighting corruption? Or is that a more suitable role for federal prosecutors? Please explain your answer.

There has been a public call for the attorney general to be more active in maintaining government integrity and ensuring that public corruption is rooted out. As such, the expansion of the grand jury power is worthy of exploration to the extent that the governor and the General Assembly are prepared to appropriately resource the Office of the Attorney General to exercise this new capacity. Historically, federal prosecutors and to some extent local prosecutors have played a more direct role in pursuing public corruption cases not only because of access to grand jury powers, but also because of access to investigators and prosecutors — critical resources — to effectively handle these complex and important cases. Giving the attorney general the statutory ability to impanel a grand jury, without giving the office access to sufficient resources and staff to follow through on the implied mandate to become more active in public corruption cases, would be a disservice to the people of Illinois.

What do you view as the top three roles of the Illinois attorney general's office?

  1. Protect (consumers, crime victims, taxpayers, workers and all Illinoisans)
  2. Represent (in court when the State is the defendant or plaintiff)
  3. Advocate (for policies that protect the rights and safety of Illinois residents, make their interactions with the justice system fairer and improve their access to open government)

To which areas of focus would you devote the most resources?

At least initially, I would devote the most resources to the division of the Public Access Counselor and to crime victims' assistance funding, appropriately distributed to the communities that have been the most victimized by violent crime and where the greatest needs persist.

What are the greatest challenges facing the next attorney general?

The next attorney general's greatest challenge will be the fact that the current presidential administration and congressional majority seek to undermine policies that protect the citizens of our state, including access to health care, voter privacy, protections for victims of campus sexual assault and more.

Give us some examples of when you displayed independence from your party or staked out an unpopular position.

I've prided myself throughout the course of my career in the legislature on embracing bipartisanship and honest debate. Often, this has meant disagreeing with fellow Democrats. I have taken leadership roles on very complex, sensitive and controversial issues such as workers' compensation reform, pension reform and negotiating difficult gun policy when we were mandated by federal courts to do so. I also made a point of reaching out to Gov. Rauner at the beginning of his term to partner with him wherever possible on a journey toward criminal justice reform.

What steps have you taken, or would you take, to maintain the independence of the office from the influence of a governor, legislative leaders or members of your political party?

It is important that the AG office maintain a nonpartisan posture. When staffing the attorney general's office, I will place priority on talent and not party affiliation. In my work on policy advocacy, I will seek to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle, as I have done during my tenure in the legislature, focusing particularly on rank-and-file members. While rounding up votes on controversial legislation, such as criminal reform initiatives, that did not divide legislators solely along party lines, I had to rely on my ability to persuade the rank and file, and not lean on leadership. As Attorney General, heading an independent constitutional office, I will take the same approach in the realm of advocacy while also issuing independently arrived-at legal opinions.

The Illinois Constitution is vague about the role of the attorney general. How proactive should the attorney general be in injecting himself or herself into issues of education, pensions, state finances, corruption or other issues that don't fall directly under the role of legal adviser?

As an independent constitutional officer, the Illinois attorney general does possess the power of the bully pulpit in addition to powers and responsibilities enumerated in statute. I am thus aware that a crucial balance must be achieved between the office's advocacy role and its responsibility for offering legal and constitutional opinions to the governor and General Assembly upon request. When exercising this function, it is important that the attorney general follow the law as it is written in statute and as it has been interpreted by courts of review, regardless of the office holder's personal opinion. Outside of this role, the Attorney General is uniquely positioned to be a voice for Illinois residents and respond to challenges — particularly threats to civil, constitutional rights — arising from new technologies, corporate actors, state-level fiscal problems or federal policies.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

One of my favorite pastimes is singing show tunes at piano side or karaoke

What distinguishes you from your opponents?

What distinguishes me from my opponents is my strong and public track record on the policy issues for which the attorney general takes legal and advocacy responsibility. This experience will allow me to hit the ground running to maintain and build on the work of the current attorney general, and it will prepare me to handle the new threats facing Illinoisans from many directions, including federal threats to health care access, immigrant and refugee rights, voting rights and protections for victims of sexual assault. To know what I will do as attorney general, one needs only to look at my record. I will advance criminal justice reform as I have done in the General Assembly, I will protect the rights of crime victims as I did while in the General Assembly and as an attorney, and I will fight for working families as I have throughout my career.