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From the Midwest, progressive J.B. Pritzker launches anti-Ron DeSantis flares

On issues from abortion to guns to education, the Democratic governor of Illinois is positioning himself as the antithesis of Florida's Republican governor.
J.B. Pritzker and Ron Desantis
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Florida Gov. Ron Desantis.Getty Images

CHICAGO — He’s a governor who talks tough about Covid, has pleaded with to the College Board about an AP African American studies course and is outspoken on the issue of abortion. 

He isn’t Ron DeSantis, who has nabbed headlines on those topics in recent months. He’s J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic governor of Illinois, who has steadily staked out progressive positions that have become law. 

DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, took issue with a draft Advanced Placement African American studies course in part because it included a unit on “Black Queer Studies.” Pritzker signed a law requiring that public schools teach “the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” He also signed into law a requirement that students learn Asian American history, making Illinois the first state to require it.

DeSantis suspended a prosecutor who wouldn’t enforce Florida’s new abortion restriction. Pritzker has vociferously held up Illinois as a beacon to women seeking abortions. DeSantis is advocating to ease restrictions on gun ownership. Pritzker just helped push through a law banning so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. 

“The governor has put Illinois on the map as one of the most safe places for women across the Midwest to get an abortion, whereas Ron DeSantis is doing everything in his power to make abortion illegal and dangerous and as inaccessible as possible,” said Terry Cosgrove, the former leader of Personal PAC, which advocates for reproductive rights.

In style, policy and substance, Pritzker has come to symbolize the anti-DeSantis governor. On Monday, those contrasts will be on full display as DeSantis is expected to speak to law enforcement in suburban Chicago. 

It’s unfortunate that Ron DeSantis has the platform that he has. I hope he stays in Florida.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering

Pritzker, who is also widely considered to be on the shortlist of Democrats interested in future presidential runs, has made it clear that DeSantis, a possible GOP presidential candidate, isn’t welcome.  

“Ron DeSantis’s dangerous and hateful agenda has no place in Illinois. Banning books, playing politics with people’s lives, and censoring history are antithetical to who we are,” Pritzker said on Twitter. “Every candidate hoping to hold public office in the land of Lincoln should condemn this event.”

Pritzker has taken direct aim at DeSantis on numerous occasions, including on a trip to speak before the Florida Democratic Party last year, when he said DeSantis was "just Donald Trump with a mask on."

“He’s trying to pass off his covert racism, homophobia and misogyny as a more reasonable form of Trump Republicanism,” Pritzker said at the time.

In his State of the State speech last week, Pritzker referred to a "virulent strain of nationalism plaguing our nation, led by demagogues who are pushing censorship, with a particular attack right now on school board members and library trustees," which was widely interpreted as a hit at DeSantis. An aide, however, said Pritzker was referring to the GOP itself and not to DeSantis specifically.

DeSantis has pushed back. He said he was under attack by liberal governors like Pritzker and Gavin Newsom of California for keeping the state of Florida open during Covid, as well as its schools. Newsom has also tried to act as a foil to DeSantis.

DeSantis said on Fox News: "Even our worst critics — Pritzker himself, he sent his family to Florida during the lockdowns. So while the people of Illinois are suffering under his petty tyranny, his family's down living in freedom in the state of Florida."

The DeSantis administration announced in January that it was rejecting the AP African American studies course, saying elements of it sought to indoctrinate students with a left-wing ideology.

In response, Pritzker sent the College Board a letter battling DeSantis’ move.

“Regardless of some leaders’ efforts, ignoring and censoring the accurate reporting of history will not change the realities of the country in which we live. In Illinois, we will not accept this watering down of history,” Pritzker wrote. “One Governor should not have the power to dictate the facts of U.S. history. In Illinois, we reject any curriculum modifications designed to appease extremists like the Florida Governor and his allies.”

The College Board eventually revised the course in a way that addressed many of the DeSantis administration's objections, although it insisted it didn’t let politics guide its decisions.

Just how different are DeSantis and Pritzker?

“Day and night. Apples and zebras,” said Nancy Rotering, the mayor of Highland Park, Illinois, where a gunman shot and killed paradegoers over the Fourth of July. Rotering has pushed for an assault weapons ban for years. After that shooting, Pritzker helped push through the ban, and he recently signed it into law.

“It’s unfortunate that Ron DeSantis has the platform that he has. I hope he stays in Florida,” Rotering said. 

But just as DeSantis has drawn the ire of the left, Pritzker has done so with the right, which has blamed him for high taxes and for moving too far to the left on social issues, including abortion.

“Governor Pritzker has been an unabashed cheerleader for the Leftist economic and social policies that have made blue states like Illinois, California, and New York far less attractive to residents and businesses," Tom Morrison, a conservative former state House member, said by text message. "Their migration to red states like Florida, Texas, and Tennessee is indisputable."

“DeSantis’ national popularity is gaining despite so much media hostility and repeated, directed attacks from prominent Democrats," he added. "I think that’s because the sort of high profile public policy positions that DeSantis has taken have genuinely broad public support.”