Former Assistant US Attorney and State Representative Scott Drury (D-Highland Park) sits on many criminal justice committees, including the Judiciary-Civil committee, and formerly the Judiciary-Criminal Committee. Drury made headlines last January when he was the only Democrat in the House of Representatives to vote “present” on the election of Speaker Michael Madigan. On June 6, he announced his bid for Illinois governor. After current attorney general Lisa Madigan announced her retirement, Drury exited the Gubernatorial race and entered the race for attorney general. The Gate’s Danielle Schmidt spoke with Drury about his campaign, the state of the state, and his reflections on his time as a state representative for the fifty-eighth district.
The Gate: Why did you decide to run for governor, and now attorney general?
Scott Drury: First, for governor, the state is obviously a huge fiscal mess, and people have lost faith and confidence in the state's ability to turn itself around. When I was talking with people, and people were coming to me just talking about the state of the state, there was a lot of people saying we need somebody who not only has shown a history of believing in core Democratic values, but also standing up not just for what the party says, but standing up for what people in Illinois want. And there was a real belief that I was the one person that has that history and would be able to take on the challenges that Illinois is facing.
In terms of the attorney general's race: it was a week and a half, two weeks ago when I learned, just like everybody else, that Lisa Madigan is retiring. I learned because so many people were calling me, texting me saying, “What are you going to do? Have you ever thought about this race?” We need somebody who is independent and, similar to the governor's race, has a history of standing up for what's right and standing up to powerful interests. When I went back and talked with friends and family and supporters, and thought about the two races and the goals that I want to accomplish—holding government accountable, making it more trustworthy, and making people believe in Illinois government again—I believe that the attorney general's position actually provides a better platform to accomplish those goals than the governor's platform.
Gate: If you are elected attorney general, what do you hope to accomplish so that in 2022, when you look back on your term, you can call it a success?
Drury: I think that people will be able to say that there was a transformation of the attorney general's office into an office that was there in a comprehensive way, representing all people's interests, and that returned trust back to Illinois. What I mean by that is right now, the office does a very good job at the consumer protection side, but that it doesn't do much work on what I'll call the “watchdog” side of things. It outsources that to the federal government. We need to turn that around so that people can know that the attorney general's office is helping clean up Illinois and making it a state that works for all the people.
Gate: Going back to cleaning up Illinois: one of your central campaign points is fighting corruption and everything that's been going on in our city. How would you use this new position to intercept actions beyond just being a watchdog?
Drury: A couple things. First, I am a firm believer that when you put the right people in the right positions, you can change behavior just by that act alone. So just by having the right person in the attorney general's office that people believe will be following the evidence wherever it goes, whether it's to the office doors in the capital or bank, stores, or other corporations. If they know you're out there, they're going to change their behavior. So that that's point number one. Point number two is devoting more resources in the office to the criminal side of the attorney general's office, so that there is a group of experienced attorneys and investigators who are actively looking into the issues of corruption, criminal fraud, and gang activity. It's not just corruption—there's there's a whole bunch of things that the office could be doing on the criminal side. It's a matter of allocation of resources.
Gate: Is that something that Lisa Madigan's office is not doing, or something that you would just like to improve what she's already accomplished?
Drury: I don't think it's the priority of her administration. It was early on, and then the office increasingly became more of the civil lawyer for the state of Illinois. Like I said, she's done a great job with that. Illinois has a national reputation for its consumer protection lawsuit. Recently, Lisa has been a leader in being a roadblock between some of the national policies and executive orders trying to be implemented and not implemented. But for whatever reason, there hasn't been a focus on the criminal justice side of the office. And that would be something that we would put more focus on while still maintaining the good things she was doing.
Gate: Back in January, you were the only House Democrat to not vote for Mike Madigan as Speaker, choosing instead to vote “present.” Can you talk a little more about what led to that decision, and how you think it has affected your year as a representative?
Drury: It was not spur of the moment; it was very thought out. There was a time where I was actually talking with people about possibly running for Speaker myself, to see if there would be a movement to do that, [but there] just weren’t enough people ready to take that leap. My vote reflected the strong desire of the constituents in my district. There's no question that a majority of the constituents in House District 58 agreed with my position on that vote, and wholeheartedly supported it. And so as Representative, my job description can't be any more clear than that in what I'm supposed to do. And and so that's what my vote reflected. The truth is that my vote reflected the views of more than just me: there are other representatives who would have liked to have done what I did.
Illinois, at this point in time, is in a lot of respects based on fear. You don't see the Democratic results that you would want to see. In terms of repercussions, well, I've spoken about them before. I was in line, as a third-term representative, to be a chair of a committee, and I was not given a chairmanship. [Last term], I was the Vice Chair of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and I lost that vice-chairmanship, and actually was removed from the committee even though I have prosecutorial background. And then there was a silly thing that all the Democratic Representatives were presented with a clock from Speaker Madigan, and I did not receive my clock. From my perspective, none of those things were unexpected. I didn't know he giving gifts out this year, but I mean nothing that that happened was unexpected. And the message really wasn't being sent to me, I think it was being sent to other people to say, “Don't do this because this could happen to you,” and some people don't want that to happen to them.
But the fact that I was able to pass legislation, and continued to be a legislator, and then now running for higher office will hopefully show many people in this state, and in the General Assembly, that you can stand up for what's right, and do the right things, and come out of it still standing.
Gate: Are those adverse effects you had from from voting present instead of in favor of Speaker Madigan something that (if they happen again in the future) you would look into as attorney general?
Drury: I would look into it if there was anything un-tort in doing it. He, as the Speaker of the House, has the ability to appoint people to chairmanships, and he has the ability to appoint people to committees. You know the issue would be—and I'm not saying this happened in my case—if someone didn't do something or took action in return for a promise for some other action, then certainly you're going to look at that: is there a quid pro quo?
What people in the General Assembly, and people in the state of Illinois, need to know is that it's okay to vote in line with what your constituents want. The ultimate show that that's okay is that when I become elected to a statewide office, it will show the public, and my (will then be) former colleagues in the House, that the public supports people who do the right thing and better represent them.
Gate: Moderate State Representatives have been leaving Springfield because of frustrations with the gridlock between the governor and Speaker. Do you believe that the office of attorney general will be a better position for you—as a moderate Democrat—to enact change and break through that gridlock?
Drury: The position provides more latitude in being able to carry out policies because you don't get bogged down in the legislative process. The frustration that people have is with the standstill in Springfield: legislation gets to the governor and gets vetoed, or it never gets to the governor so it can't be vetoed or overridden. At the end of the day, you're a rat on a wheel and you're not making progress. People who are going into public service to do public service are not [receiving] the gratification for themselves that they are accomplishing anything, and are not accomplishing anything on behalf of their constituents.
The attorney general is the other part of the executive branch that doesn't have to pass the legislation. It can have the policies and can be a zealous advocate of issues like criminal justice reform, ending gun violence, making sure environmental laws are followed, and making sure that everybody is following the law. And you can do that without having to pass laws or without having to worry that the governor is going to veto your bill or that is going to get overridden. So I do believe that it provides a great platform to be a type of advocate I've been, and to get the results that the people in the state of Illinois need to see and need to have.
Gate: You said that sometimes being a State Representative can feel like you're going around in circles—like a rat on a wheel. That said, is there something that you're most proud of during your three terms as a Representative that you have accomplished?
Drury: There's a couple things. I'll talk legislatively, and then I'll talk about overall accomplishments. Legislatively, I'm very proud of the work that I did in the criminal justice reform and police reform movements. I came in in 2013 and immediately went to work on trying to stop Illinois's horrible record of putting innocent people in prison while the guilty went free. That took a huge effort. And we ended up implementing two bills. One was to record more interrogations in the police department, and the other was to be the first state in the country to have procedures for how eyewitness identifications work.
In 2013, there were no real movements among the Democrats or Republicans to do anything that remotely tried to reform police work. It wasn't trending. We knew, and I knew, it was the right thing to do. It wasn't anti-law enforcement or pro-law enforcement, it was just the right thing to do to help both sides in the end. And I was happy that we were able to get that done in 2013 and 2014 over tremendous Democratic and Republican opposition. And it wasn't until, unfortunately, the public saw a young African-American male be shot in the back sixteen times that all of the sudden people said we need to do police reform. I am a firm believer that leaders take on the issue before they're popular; you take on issues because it's the right thing to do. That's exactly what I did in my first term. It's unfortunate that it took people having to see that horrific video to get on board with an issue that they should have been on board with back in 2013 and 2014. So I'm really proud that I was able to get that done, and proud of the work that I continue to do in that field of criminal justice reform.
Overall, I'm so proud of the fact that the constituents of my district, and some statewide now, know that Illinois government can be trusted or can be better than it is and to look to my record and what I've done (standing up power and still be very effective legislatively) and say, “This is what we can have, and hold that up as a standard.” I love when I'm walking around my district or get on a train and there's people who say to me, “You know Scott, it makes me feel so great when I read an article about something that happened in Illinois that's positive, and it has your name and then in parentheses it says ‘D’ for Democrat dash Highwood, from where I am. It just makes us feel really good that our guy is the one doing that.” That's what it's all about. It's not about me, it's about being an advocate for my constituents and for the state. Illinois gives people a whole lot of reason not to like it. And so the fact that I've been able to convince people that things can be different, government could be trusted, or at least one person can be trusted, and the fact that I have been able to accomplish that that makes me feel like this was all worth it.
Gate: State Attorneys General were thrown into the spotlight this summer after attorney general Paxton from Texas successfully threatened the DACA program, which the Trump Administration is now phasing out. Although as attorney general your primary responsibilities would include state policies, how do you plan to respond to federal policies, should they come into question?
Drury: The Attorneys General across the country are playing an ever increasing role in national politics, and right now, at least on the Democratic side, [they seem to be] the only roadblocks between violations of constitutional rights and those not happening. You can look at the original proposed travel ban: it was the Attorneys General that were the ones that said, “No this is wrong,” and it's now a federal lawsuit. Ultimately, the Supreme Court made a decision and the law has been amended. If no one stood up to that, there would have been a lot of protests, but Congress didn't seem like they were going to stop it.
When you look at DACA, the current executive order that says there's six months for Congress to get its act together or the President is going to end DACA. Lisa Madigan and several other Attorneys General across the country have filed, I believe on due process grounds, lawsuits in federal court. DACA got people to come out of the shadows and give the government a whole lot of information about their status, and now there's a real big concern that that same information is going to be used to kick people out of the country.
The attorney general needs to enforce all of the laws that he oversees. And if there's violations of the Constitution then the attorney general absolutely has to step in and say, “This is wrong,” and either file a lawsuit on his own, or work with the Attorneys General across the country (at least the ones that are on board with the issue) and then bring that to the forefront. I see this as being an issue not just with the current President, but now that this President is being checked, my guess is this is going to be an issue going forward, and I intend to continue to advocate in that way.
Gate: You have consistently separated yourself from Speaker Madigan throughout your time as a State Representative. Since you are no longer running for governor, will you support Rauner (given that he is “anti-Madigan”), or would you be willing to endorse a Democrat candidate?
Drury: I'm a Democrat, and I believe that Illinois needs a new governor. governor Rauner has been a failure as a governor; he's been unable to lead. As far as who I will ultimately support, just like you, I'm a citizen in the state of Illinois, and I'm continuing to watch the debates amongst the various candidates. There's a long way between now and March 20, and so I will continue to watch the forums, watch the public statements, and ultimately make a decision just like the rest of the voters in the state.
Gate: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Drury: The attorney general's race provides a real opportunity, for the first time in a generation, and it may be the last time in a generation, where we can we can transform the office of the attorney general. Even though it's a partisan position, [we can] put a person in there who is going to be viewed as someone who looks at things independently, and goes where the evidence leads. And that's critical in this position: to turn the perception of Illinois around from a state that has a historical reputation of being corrupt, to one that is going to be viewed as a state that finally turned itself around and is a state that can be trusted. But if we don't take advantage of this opportunity, it will pass, and then we will have to wait another generation to try to make the change we could be making now.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity. The featured image is licensed under the Creative Commons; the original image can be found here.
Danielle Schmidt is a third-year Public Policy and Philosophy double major and Human Rights minor. Danielle has interned for a non-profit employment center on the South Side and a bipartisan advocacy organization for immigration reform; she served as a Field Director for an Illinois State Representative as well. On campus, she volunteers for New Americans and enjoys exploring the city with her cattle dog.