For the first time ever, a woman will hold the 118th district seat in southern Illinois.
Natalie Phelps Finnie was officially announced Wednesday as the replacement for her cousin, 8-term House member Brandon Phelps, who resigned last week for health reasons.
"I've had some problems with my eye. I've been blind for about 12 years now. I've been putting doctor visits off and surgeries off because I didn't want to miss session that much. It caught up with me. So, I've got to do some things now."
Phelps Finnie says although she's new to regional politics, she's not new to talking about important issues, thanks to Brandon and her father, former Congressman David Phelps.
"If you'd ever come to a Phelps family dinner you would know real quick. We argue just for the sake of arguing. We certainly do not agree on all topics. We are brutally honest with each other and I like honesty. I'm going to expect my constituents to be honest with me. But, definitely my family because I'm going to be leaning on them heavily."
The outgoing Phelps says his cousin is tough and smart, traits she'll need because the lack of bi-partisanship in Springfield has become much more pronounced during his 8 terms in office.
"It's really sad because I've always prided myself to reach across the aisle. I have just as many republican friends as I had democrat friends. But, I worked at that because I didn't care about party necessarily. You got to take care of constituents and that's what I always do and that'll never change."
Phelps Finnie says she's aware the state Capitol is a difficult place right now. But, the nurse, wife and mother of three says she plans to make a difference.
"I have a natural ability about me, everyone has always said that, to bring people together. So, I'm going to rely on that skill heavily because I refuse to believe we can't compromise still. There's common sense out there, we just need to use it."
She says seeing abused, neglected and impoverished children in her position at the school-based Gallatin Wellness Center convinced her to work to change policies.
"I'm not even sure what that looks like. I certainly, like I said, don't plan to have all the answers, but we've got to start the conversation of how we can change to help these kids and families. Families are being destroyed all around us. I don't know of anybody I talk to who's not impacted in some way by the opiate crisis."
Phelps Finnie says her other priorities include education, worker's rights, agriculture, coal and new energy sources.
Phelps Finnie says she plans to seek a full-term in office next year.
Brandon Phelps says he will not rule out running for office again someday.