June 25, 2022

Opinion

Pfingsten: Gov. Pritzker needs to take responsibility

Patrick Pfingsten

Surely, you’ve seen the historical photo of Harry Truman’s White House desk with a “The Buck Stops Here” sign. It was President Truman’s way of saying all decisions made by his administration, either by Truman himself or staff, were his responsibility.

When I watched Gov. JB Pritzker this month try to deflect responsibility for his administration’s inaction to a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the state-run La Salle Veterans Home in 2020, I couldn’t help but think of that sign on Truman’s desk.

The Illinois Auditor General reported the Chief of Staff at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs continued to ask the Illinois Department of Public Health and Deputy Gov. Sol Flores for help at the start of the outbreak in November 2020.

The chief of staff, Tony Kolbeck, needed more rapid COVID tests for residents and staff, antibody treatments, and a team from IDPH to come in and help slow the spread of the disease. It took almost two weeks before IDPH was on the ground.

Pritzker, instead, blamed Republicans for the outbreak.

“We were working against Republican elected officials who told people to defy mitigation efforts,” Pritzker said. “We told people that they needed to follow those mitigations, but Republicans told them that they need not wear masks. They told people that they didn’t need to get vaccinated. They told people that COVID wasn’t serious. Those lies put people’s lives at risk, especially the most vulnerable.”

There was no COVID-19 vaccine available at the time.

For more context: The COVID-19 positivity rate in La Salle County was lower at the time of the outbreak than it was in Kankakee, Adams or Union counties, where the other three IDVA homes are located. None of them had outbreaks as severe as La Salle. Furthermore, La Salle is represented by a Democrat, state Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa), in the House. It’s Republican senator, Sue Rezin, and Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger, could never be considered part of a disinformation campaign about the severity of COVID-19.

It’s interesting, because in the same news conference, Pritzker seemed to realize executive agencies are his responsibility, but still wouldn’t own the mistakes.

“Look, I’m the governor of the state of Illinois. So, I understand that these agencies are my responsibility, my appointments to lead those agencies are my responsibility,” he said. “The policies and procedures are done by the agencies themselves. The management of the individuals who work at a particular veterans home are handled by people at those homes.”

Then, Pritzker deflected criticism when the Auditor General released a report blasting the Department of Children and Family Services for failing to meet the needs of kids in the state’s care.

In 98% of cases where children were returned to their parents, DCFS failed to do home inspections before the kids were allowed back in. That means kids were being sent back into homes they had already been pulled out of without DCFS knowing if those children were going into a dangerous home.

The director of DCFS, Marc Smith, has been held in contempt of court 10 times in recent months for the agency’s failure to place kids with physical or mental disabilities into foster homes in a timely situation.

DCFS caseworker Diedra Silas was stabbed to death on a home visit this year when she was following up on allegations of child abuse. The governor and legislature responded by passing a bill allowing caseworkers to carry pepper spray. Pepper spray.

A lot of political disagreements about government can be summed up by who is spending money on what and how much money they are spending on it. DCFS doesn’t just involve employees and finances, it involves the lives and safety of children.

I’d love to see a governor stand up and say, “We screwed up. It makes us sick. It makes me angry. But here’s how we’re fixing it.”

• Patrick Pfingsten is a former award-winning journalist and Republican strategist who writes The Illinoize statewide political newsletter. You can read more at theillinoize.com or contact him at patrick@theillinoize.com.