Pritzker vs. Bailey: Illinois gubernatorial candidates square-off over SAFE-T Act

Gov. JB Pritzker and his Republican challenger state Senator Darren Bailey clashed on guns, abortion, taxes and immigration in their first televised debate Thursday night.

Debate moderators cited a voter opinion survey that found about half of Illinoisans believe crime will increase after January 1, when the SAFE-T Act imposes new requirements on prosecutors and police who want to detain a violent offender.

Bailey calls for repealing it. Gov. Pritzker says he wants changes but wouldn't get specific.

"The criminal justice system that Darren Bailey and Republicans are standing up for is one that allows murders and rapists and domestic abusers to buy their way out of jail. And that's unsafe," Pritzker said.

Moderator: "Gov. Pritzker, are you willing to answer the question? One specific change you would make?"

"Again, I think there are clarifications that can be made in the law to make sure that everyone understands," Pritzker responded.


Bailey argued the SAFE-T Act will make Illinoisans less safe.

"The SAFE-T Act must be repealed because it lets violent criminals and murderers out of jail before trial," Bailey said.

Debating each other in person for the first time, the two were allowed to interrupt each other's answers. Bailey did more of that, as well as laughing elaborately at many of Gov. Pritzker’s responses.

The two repeatedly accused each other of lying. Bailey, who has long favored banning abortion without exceptions even for rape or incest, argued it's not really an issue, because he'd likely face a Democratic-controlled General Assembly that would block him for changing the law.

"Nothing's going to change when I’m governor. I couldn't change them if I could. JB Pritzker stays up at night trying to dream up new abortion laws. Those issues are dividing us. My focus is going to be crime, taxes and education," Bailey said.

Gov. Pritzker was quick to respond.

"He wants to take away women's reproductive rights," Pritzker said.

"You are so divisive on every issue," Bailey chimed in.

"That's what he stands for. Go look it up. I have spent my life fighting for women's rights. And for women's reproductive rights. And, as long as I’m governor, we're going to protect them," Pritzker stated.

There were other heated exchanges. Gov. Pritzker favors banning military-style weapons and large ammo magazines. Sen. Bailey opposes.

Bailey made the eye-popping claim that the Illinois state budget contains $10-15 billion in waste — that's about a third of it. But he offered no examples.

Bailey said the state cannot afford to spend money on immigrants. Gov. Pritzker said we have an obligation to help them.

Leading up to the November election, Bailey has criticized Gov. Pritzker for being soft on crime and Pritzker believes Bailey is a Trump-endorsed extremist.

"My opponent, Darren Bailey, is a Trump extremist who would take our state backwards. He opposes abortion, wants to jail doctors for it, would force a 13-year-old rape victim to give birth. He voted against funding for crime labs that have eliminated the backlog of rape evidence, and he even wants to throw Chicagoans out of the state," Pritzker recently said.

Bailey addressed supporters Thursday afternoon gathering on the campus of Illinois State University in Bloomington, where the debate was held. He previewed a few lines he had planned to deliver when he debated the Democratic incumbent.

"JB Pritzker, you are a liar in a fine suit! And you don't deserve to be a governor anymore. And we're going to fire you!" Bailey said.

Pritzker has spent tens of millions of dollars on campaign ads that portray Bailey as a "Trump extremist" on issues ranging from abortion to school curriculum.

Bailey’s running mate for lieutenant governor weighed in, too.

"We're going to remind everybody of the failed policies of JB Pritzker that have turned the ‘Land of Lincoln’ into the ‘Land of Leaving,’" Stephanie Trussell said.

"Everyone knows that Illinois' in trouble. Everyone is concerned about safety, everyone is concerned about high taxes, and everyone is concerned about our schools. So, our campaign is gonna unite the state. Doesn't matter what political view you hold," Bailey said.

Meanwhile, early voting in the city of Chicago begins Friday. Suburban Cook County residents can vote early in-person starting October 12.

Surrounding counties began opening polls for the midterm elections last month.