Jesse Ruiz, candidate for Attorney General
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. Today, as we face a Trump White House supported by right-wing zealots, the protections built into our legal system are more crucial than ever.
As your Attorney General, I will use all of the powers of the law as a shield – and if necessary, a sword – on behalf of everyone in Illinois.
Like so many men and women in Illinois (and across the country), I made the decision to run for elected office because I believe each one of us has a duty to step up and resist the current Administration.
For me, the tipping point came on June 16, 2015, when Donald Trump announced he was running for President. As you probably remember, he launched his campaign by saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
When I heard those words, I got angry. He was talking about my parents, and about the millions of hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding Mexican immigrants just like them who came to this country to build new lives for themselves and their families. I feel that I would dishonor my parents if I failed to do everything I can to resist Trump and to put the law on the side of all the people who work hard, play by the rules, and believe in the American Dream.
I believe that I have a special responsibility to speak out for people whose voices are not being heard today. I grew up on Chicago’s South Side, in the Roseland neighborhood. My father worked the evening shift at a big commercial bakery, where his union – the Teamsters – made sure he was paid a living wage. He never earned more than about $19,000 a year, but our family had access to decent healthcare, and my father’s pension made it possible for him to grow old in dignity.
While my father was working those long shifts, my mother was setting an extraordinary example of giving back to the community. She was a tireless volunteer – helping out with Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Little League and at church events, and teaching my sisters and me a lifelong lesson: “If you have enough to eat, you have enough to share.”
My parents expected all of us to study as hard as we could (and then a little bit harder.) Thanks to their support and their high expectations, I got a scholarship to study at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where I earned a degree in economics.
To pay my way through college, I worked a number of different jobs, including stints as a sales clerk, a machine operator, a meter reader, and a handyman. In those jobs, I worked side-by-side with people from all different backgrounds – but they all shared a common determination to move up the ladder and create a better future for themselves and their families. I know how hard those men and women worked for every dollar, and as Attorney General, I will fight to protect them from unscrupulous corporations and consumer fraud.
After graduation, I spent a few years working in the steel industry. Then I had the good fortune of attending the University of Chicago Law School, where I studied under the guidance of future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and future President Barack Obama.
I first met Barack Obama when he was recruiting students for his seminar class on racism and the law. As a teacher, Obama always encouraged students to challenge everything, to stand up for what they believed in. His commitment to public service was incredibly inspiring, and I became one of his earliest political supporters. I spent a memorable day on the South Side of Chicago walking a precinct with him, knocking on doors and watching him connect with voters. Years later, I was proud to volunteer on his presidential campaigns.
After law school, I got a job at a Chicago law firm – and I’ve been working at the same firm ever since. (after a merger, it’s now known as Drinker Biddle & Reath.) At the time, I felt extremely anxious about paying off my law school loans, which added up to almost $90,000. Now, when I hear about students talking about their student loans totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can’t imagine how it must feel to be a young person starting out under the burden of that kind of debt. That’s why, as Attorney General, I will make battling unscrupulous student loan companies one of my top priorities.
From the beginning of my legal career, I have been committed to giving back to my community through volunteer work. I served almost seven years as Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), where I advocated for public school students throughout our state. On one occasion, I was called to act when a school district refused to enroll an undocumented student, in violation of federal law (as I knew from my studies in Barack Obama’s seminar.) Certain that the law was on our side, we took action to cut off the school district’s state funding for violating the student’s civil rights. The very next day, school district backed down and the student was enrolled.
Later, I continued to advocate for public education as Vice President of the Chicago Board of Education, where I served for more than four years. I also was appointed to serve on the U.S. Department of Education Equity and Excellence Commission by then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
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 tenure as interim CEO, I created a requirement that all requests for single- and sole-source contracts be posted on the CPS 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.
In addition to my work on behalf of Illinois’ school children, I also am passionate about expanding opportunities for people of color, especially in our Latino communities. I ran a clinic at my firm to assist young, undocumented immigrants who were only children when their parents brought them here, in pursuit of a better life. It touched my heart to work with these promising young people, and I was very proud when a client I represented pro bono received official notice that he would be allowed to stay in this country. I also serve as legal counsel to the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation, which has twice honored me with its Leadership Award.
For the past two years, I have served as the President of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners, which has given me an even deeper appreciation of our extraordinary natural resources here in Illinois and strengthened my opposition to the anti-environmental onslaughts of the current Administration. I am outraged by Trump’s continuing attempts to put polluters in charge of the U.S. EPA. As your Attorney General, I will take action to stop polluters who threaten the quality of our air and our water – especially our beautiful Lake Michigan – and I will speak out when Trump tries to appoint foxes to guard the environmental henhouse.
These are difficult times for Democrats. It seems like almost every day, Trump is coming after another group of Americans: Women, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, even graduate students. The list goes on and on. It’s unbelievable – and it makes the role of the Illinois Attorney General more important than it has ever been at any other time in my life.
As the people’s lawyer, the Attorney General is uniquely empowered to defend the rights of the people of Illinois. I am running for Attorney General because I feel called to do everything I can to stand up against the abuses of people like Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump.
I look forward to working with all of you in the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association to win this election and send a message to Washington that the people of Illinois will fight for our rights – and that no one, not even Donald Trump, can overturn the rule of law in this great country.