The race for the 118th District of the Illinois House of Representatives is one of the most contentious races in the state. It pits Democratic incumbent Natalie Phelps Finnie of Elizabethtown against Republican Patrick Windhorst of Metropolis.
Windhorst is a graduate of Massac County High School, Shawnee Community College, University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University School of Law. He was elected Massac County state’s attorney in 2006.
Windhorst and his wife, Holly, live in a small house two blocks from the Massac County Courthouse in Metropolis with their two young children. He serves as a deacon in his local church and is a member of Rotary Club.
State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie also is a Southern Illinois native. She was appointed state representative in Sept. 2017 after the retirement of her cousin, Brandon Phelps. Although she was new to the position, she was familiar with serving as state representative. Her father, David Phelps, held the seat from 1984 until he was elected to Congress in 1998.
Phelps Finnie is the first woman to serve as representative in the 118th District of Illinois. She is a small-business owner and family nurse practitioner at Gallatin County Wellness Center.
She and her husband live on a cattle ranch in Elizabethtown with their three children. She is a member of Star Church in Eldorado and sings in a gospel music trio with her sisters. In her spare time, Phelps Finnie participates in shooting as a sport with her family.
Windhorst thinks the overriding issue in the state of Illinois is population loss. He said more than 30,000 Illinois residents moved out of the state last year, and 1,000 of them were from the 118th District.
“This is brought on by three issues: The overall tax burden of state being highest in country. The overall business climate of the state needs to be improved. We need to have fiscal sanity to address future budget issues,” Windhorst said.
He added that the first two are related. Improving the overall tax burden in the state would improve the business climate. That would encourage individuals and businesses to locate or relocate in Illinois.
“One of the main reasons we lose people is, they go to college out of state and do not return,” Windhorst said.
He added that we need to keep Illinois’ best students in the state for post-secondary education. Part of that equation would be improving education in local schools for K-12 students.
His website, votewindhorst.com, also lists lower taxes, more jobs, less spending, term limits, conservative values, school funding and ending the reign of Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan as important issues.
Phelps Finnie believes the biggest issue facing Southern Illinois is poverty. Drug addiction follows closely and is related to poverty. For the people she sees in her clinic, poverty is first.
“We need jobs, but we have people who cannot fill those jobs. We need some job skills training and some real investment in the community,” Phelps Finnie said. “Education is the number one avenue. We need to train kids who have lived in poverty for generations to teach them to get out of that.”
Phelps Finnie calls it a tangled mess that has to be unwoven a piece at a time. Because of poverty, the area has a shrinking tax base.
“The middle class is bearing (the) brunt of the tax burden, and we are taxed to death. The wealthiest among us do not pay their fair share. I don’t want to tax the wealthy to death, but everyone needs to pay their fair share,” Phelps Finnie said. “We need to restructure our tax base to be fair.”
She added that the definition of middle class should have changed a long time ago, because the middle class is shrinking very quickly.
She said the wealthiest people in the state have said if taxes increase, they will leave Illinois.
“I’m tired of being held hostage by that,” Phelps Finnie said. “I think that is despicable.”
Since most jobs are provided by small and midsize businesses and not huge corporations, Phelps Finnie said she thinks the state needs to give tax breaks to small and midsize businesses to promote growth.
“I think everybody feels frustrated with property taxes,” Finnie said.
She believes that it will take a little time for the school funding formula to kick in and make property tax relief possible.
“Those are the big things that make it hard for families. Most impoverished people are living in horrible situations. We’ve got to teach kids, and when we do that, we have to have jobs ready for them,” Phelps Finnie said.
The race has drawn attention from statewide party organizations, with each candidate receiving money from party heavyweights and organizations. The influx of party funding has brought its share of television ads, including negative ads about both candidates.
Windhorst said the current ad relating to a plea deal for a sex offender does not contain all the facts.
“That individual is behind bars for 20 years,” Windhorst said.
He said an investigative report by the Belleville News Democrat listed the failure to prosecute rate in Massac County as 74 percent. Windhorst said the way they interpreted the data from two databases is flawed. An individual may be charged with multiple counts based on the number of victims. For example, if three victims report a crime by the same person, the suspect will only be charged in one case.
Windhorst added that the way the information is interpreted makes him look soft on prosecuting sexual assault.
“They make for flashy headlines, but they are not accurate. What I’m saying cannot be explained in 30 seconds, so it does not make a good political ad,” Windhorst said.
He is spending the last month of his campaign trying to get his message to the people of the district.
“I am confident that if they hear my message, they will support me. When I get to Springfield, we can work to make changes to turn the state around,” Windhorst said.
Phelps Finnie said almost all the negative ads running about her are completely false and are lies. She thinks the only one that might contain truth is the ad that says she voted with Madigan 95 percent of the time.
“When I vote for a bill, I don’t look at whose name is on it,” she said.
She receives an analysis on every bill that states who is for and against it and what the bill will do. Sometimes she is cautioned about bills that would not be good for Southern Illinois.
“I’ve been dumbfounded. It is nonsense and ridiculous,” Phelps Finnie said. “Madigan has been there too long. We all agree on that.”
She added that many downstate legislators — both Republican and Democratic — may share her record. They often consult on which bills will be good for the region.
She said she has not voted on a tax increase and would not raise taxes on people making $17,000 a year or even $75,000. She also is working to protect pensions, she said.
Phelps Finnie will tell you that working in health care and raising children are not easy, but serving as state representative is harder.