In a campaign stop in Marion on Monday, Illinois senator Kwame Raoul introduced himself as “the guy with the funny name that replaced the guy with the funny name.”
Raoul, an attorney for over 25 years, has served in the Illinois senate for the past 13 years after being appointed to replace Barack Obama in 2004.
He told a crowd of about three dozen local political and labor leaders that he sees himself as a champion of labor and the middle class. In fact, Raoul had no qualms about attacking Gov. Bruce Rauner’s policies that he claims “assault” Illinois’ middle class.
“Labor created the middle class in this county,” said Raoul, in an interview with the Marion Republican. “Rauner is trying to run Illinois like a right to work state.”
Raoul told those gathered “we’re at a point where we can’t do politics as usual.” A legislator who describes himself as one who will “reach across the aisle,” Raoul said he will continue “to protect organized labor that created the middle class,” something he says he’s been doing for 13 years and can continue to do as attorney general.
“Rauner is undermining the ability to let everybody live the American dream,” Raoul told the crowd.
Raoul also talked about ensuring that all Illinois citizens have access to healthcare. Citing his own battle with prostate cancer, Raoul said he was lucky. “I had health care that allowed my cancer to be detected early, to get the surgery and treatment I needed. There are others that are not so lucky.”
Raoul lost his own father to the same cancer one year before taking office.
Speaking about his father’s fight, he noted that he also plans to fight opioid epidemic in Illinois. “My own father, a physician, would not take pain medicine, even on his death bed,” he said, “because he knew the dangers of addiction.”
Raoul said that most heroin users “did not just go out and start on heroin.” They started out as people received opioid for pain, he said.
“We need to hold providers and drug companies responsible.”
Raoul said he has already voted for legalizing medical marijuana. “There is pending legislation to make sure we expand its use as a substitute for opioid drugs. We need to embrace it with proper regulation.”
Former congressman and SIU-C president Glenn Poshard said he supports Raoul’s bid to fill Lisa Madigan’s post. Poshard said Raoul has been a friend of higher education as well as helping with legislation that benefits southern Illinois. “In all the years I was president of SIU and when I was in Congress, when we needed help he never turned us down,” said Poshard.
Williamson County States Attorney Brandon Zanotti said he had just met Raoul, but liked what he was hearing. “I think it’s a little early to endorse,” said Zanotti. “I want to get a feel for all of the candidates and what they stand for.”
Zanotti said the attorney general position “is an important job that affects how I run my office.
He did say that Raoul has a record of working across the aisle. “He would be a unifying factor,” acknowledged Zanotti.
As for Raoul, he plans to take advantage of advice given to him by Obama on Raoul’s first day in office. “He told me to spend time with people in other areas of the state and across the aisle,” said Raoul, “that it’s going to benefit you when you least expect it.”
Raoul said that advice has been valuable. “I’m a proud Democrat, but I’m my own man,” he said. “I will represent the entire state.”