Name: Jesse Ruiz
Office seeking: Illinois Attorney General
City of residence: Chicago
Campaign website: www.Jesse4IL.com
Why are you running and why should you be nominated? My breadth of experience across all types of legal work, and my commitment to pro bono legal services, makes me uniquely qualified to serve as Illinois Attorney General. The Attorney General’s office, which is often described as the largest public interest law firm in the state, is responsible for providing legal oversight covering a broad range of issues, reaching every corner of Illinois. I became an attorney so I could use the law to protect and defend others, and to be able to step in when people need a champion. As Attorney General, I will work to bring the power of government back to the people of Illinois. Every day, I will work to make Illinois a better, safer place – for all of us.
What do you view the role of the attorney general's office to be in terms of law enforcement? We need to increase public confidence in our law enforcement officers and encourage people to report crimes without fear, regardless of their immigration status. Illinois’ law enforcement community should focus on its core mission of keeping all of us safe from crime. I support Attorney General Madigan’s call to reject the Trump Administration’s attempts to make local law enforcement officers a de facto branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As the next Attorney General, I will be responsible for implementing the consent decree that Attorney General Madigan is negotiating with the City of Chicago.
How would you view the relationship between the attorney general's office and state's attorneys in each county? To protect the people of Illinois, I will continue Attorney General Madigan’s work in collaborating with state’s attorneys across Illinois on a variety of policies and issues for example, cracking down on illegal gun sales and pursuing criminal cases. It is an unfortunate fact that, in most cases, state law restricts the Illinois attorney general’s office from pursuing criminal cases – including prosecution of public corruption –without the consent of county state’s attorneys. Because state’s attorneys have primary jurisdiction in these cases, the Attorney General does not have authority to empanel a grand jury; absent this authority, the AG’s office cannot conduct a full criminal investigation and bring charges against a corrupt public official. Thus far, the General Assembly has refused to give the Attorney General’s office broader authority, such as enhanced grand jury powers, to investigate public corruption. As Attorney General, I will advocate for changes in state law to ensure that our office has the power to act as a watchdog on our elected and appointed officials.
What is the most important issue facing the attorney general's office? How would you approach it? The Illinois Attorney General has jurisdiction over a wide range of issues, and it is impossible to predict with any certainty the issues that will be at the top of the agenda in January of 2019. No one would have predicted this time last year that the Attorney General’s office would be investigating Equifax – or that Attorneys General from across the country would be banding together to protect our healthcare from attempted sabotage by the White House. But no matter what unexpected events and issues arise between now and the day I take office in January 2019, I know that three top priorities will guide the work of my office:
• Fighting public corruption
• Fighting for criminal justice reform
• Fighting against the Trump agenda of rolling back our civil and workplace rights, immigration policy and environmental regulations
What other issues would you focus the attorney general's office on? As Attorney General, I will seek expanded powers to investigate and prosecute government corruption at every level. Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing my home state used as the punchline of jokes about corrupt politicians making sleazy deals and lining their own pockets with taxpayers’ money. Especially under the current Administration, the people of Illinois should not be dependent on federal prosecutors to keep an eye on our elected officials. Other states have passed laws that empower their Attorney General to act as a government watchdog, with the ability to step in when state or local officials violate their oath of office. We need that same level of protection here in Illinois. My own record demonstrates my willingness to stand up and take on political insiders. In 2015, I stepped in to become Interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, in the wake of a bribery scandal. That experience really underscored the importance of transparency in government. During my brief tenure, I created a requirement that all requests for single- and sole-source contracts be posted on our website, well in advance of any vote. Now the Chicago Public Schools have a system in place to make sure that the Board and the public have a chance to weigh in before those types of contracts go up for a vote. Supreme Court Justice Brandeis once said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Advocating for open and transparent government is one of the Attorney General’s core responsibilities, and I will do everything I can to make sure the people of Illinois get the full picture of what their government is up to. I also spoke out when Forrest Claypool committed ethics infractions as the head of CPS. From day one, I blew the whistle on the conflicts of interest that led to the Inspector General’s investigation. Forrest Claypool’s actions in misleading the Inspector General were unacceptable, especially at a time when trust in our government is at an all-time low. The people of Chicago have the right to expect our leaders to set an example of integrity. When Forrest Claypool failed this test, I called on him to step down.
What are your views on the legalization of marijuana debate? I fully support legalization of recreational adult use in Illinois with appropriate regulation, e.g. age restrictions and appropriate limitations on THC levels. As Attorney General, I will take every action available under law to protect Illinois' right to make its own decisions about the legality of marijuana. I deplore U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent shortsighted decision to revoke the Obama Administration's guidance on deferring to the states on marijuana enforcement. By rescinding the directive and offering nothing to take its place, Sessions has simply created chaos. I am especially concerned by the impacts of his actions on medical marijuana. The states have made it clear that legalized medical marijuana is supported by the vast majority of Americans. Especially as our nation confronts the horrifying opioid epidemic, it is critically important to find safe, effective alternatives for pain relief. Quite frankly, I cannot understand why Sessions would take an action that has triggered so much uncertainty throughout the industry and brought anxiety to patients who have come to rely on safe medical-grade cannabis products. If the General Assembly legalizes adult recreational use of marijuana in Illinois, I will work closely with the Legislature to develop a procedure to expunge the records of Illinoisans who have cannabis convictions on their records. I believe that California's Prop. 64 offers a useful roadmap for petitioning to have their prior convictions reclassified or dismissed. Once a new law has been passed, I will hold a summit of county state's attorneys and public defenders to begin the petition process for people who are being held by the Illinois Department of Corrections for marijuana-related crimes. Once an adult use bill is passed, Illinois should not be spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people for a crime that no longer exists. Most Americans want to see medial marijuana made available as a safe and effective alternative to more dangerous narcotics, and see the issue of adult use left to the states as an issue of states’ rights. I believe the federal government should have no role in the criminalization of marijuana within the borders of Illinois or any other state that chooses to legalize it.