Opponents in race for state representative focus their campaigns on business climate

Saturday, November 4, 2006

HARRISBURG, Ill. -- State Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, says he's worked to bring jobs to Southern Illinois. But his Republican opponent, Rhonda Belford of Rosiclare, Ill., contends he hasn't done enough to improve the business climate and the economy in Illinois' largest geographical district.

The district covers all or parts of 11 counties and borders three states: Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana. It includes Alexander and Pulaski counties and part of Union County, among others.

Phelps, who has served in the state legislature for four years, is seeking re-election on Tuesday to a third term.

The Democratic lawmaker said he and his staff have focused on economic development for the region.

"People want a legislator to be productive and bring projects and money back home. We feel like we have done that," he said.

But Belford said Phelps has a poor voting record on business issues. "While he seems to think everything is going great, we have jobs leaving by the droves from Southern Illinois," she said.

"We have too many fees and taxes on our businesses," Belford said. "That is what is causing them to leave the area."

Alexander County's economy is in shambles, she said. "It looks like a Third World country," said Belford.

Phelps said state, federal and local leaders worked to encourage plans for an ethanol plant in Pulaski County that is expected to employ 100 to 150 people.

Phelps said he was involved in the creation of the Southern Economic Development Authority to issue bonds to help with economic development projects.

But Belford said the economy of Southern Illinois won't improve without a better business climate. "We have got to become job friendly again," said Belford who previously directed two economic-development-related agencies in the region.

She has served as executive director of the Main Street redevelopment program in Golconda, Ill., and headed up the Ohio River Scenic Byway program.

Phelps describes himself as a conservative, anti-abortion, pro-gun Democrat. "I do a lot of hunting bills. The NRA endorses me."

Phelps, Belford said, has numerous endorsements. "If you are an incumbent you pretty much will be endorsed by everyone," she said.

"I am pro-life, pro-gun and pro-Southern Illinois. That is why I am in this race," she said.

Phelps accuses Belford of running a negative campaign. He insists he won't do the same.

"I have vowed not to run a negative campaign. I am not doing any TV commercials. I just feel people are sick of it," said Phelps.

Belford said she's running television ads because she's running against an incumbent.


335-6611, extension 123

Brandon Phelps

Party: Democrat

Age: 36

Hometown: Harrisburg, Ill.

Occupation: State representative, previously was director of organizing for the Midwest Region of the Laborers International Union of North America. Worked in the state treasurer's office from 1992 to 1995.

Political experience: Has served as state representative for the 118th House District of Illinois for four years. Seeking re-election to a third, two-year term.

Education: Graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in political science.

Personal: Divorced. Has a 4-year-old daughter.

Rhonda Belford

Party: Republican

Age: 44

Hometown: Rosiclare, Ill.

Occupation: Registered nurse. Singer/ songwriter of country and gospel music. Owns a music publishing company. Previously worked as executive director of the Main Street program in Golconda, Ill., and of the Ohio River Scenic Byway organization.

Political experience: Has worked for Republican candidates in previous elections and sung at Republican Party fund-raisers.

Education: Graduated from Southeastern Illinois College's nursing program, attended Murray State University. Holds a license in long-term nursing care administration.

Personal: Husband, Michael, and two sons.

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