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Post Falls businessman in Senate race

TUESDAY, JAN. 8, 2008

Post Falls businessman Richard Phenneger commissioned a poll that showed only 21 percent of Idahoans were satisfied with the two major-party frontrunners for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat – Republican Jim Risch and Democrat Larry LaRocco – and now Phenneger’s running, too.

Phenneger, a retired airline and military pilot who’s built a career developing employee stock ownership plans for companies throughout the country, has filed to run as a Republican, and he scheduled a formal announcement at a chili feed in Post Falls on Monday night.

His statewide poll, conducted by Robinson Research, queried a sample of 400 Idaho voters between Nov. 26 and Dec. 12, and yielded a thick pile of results on top issues, impressions of the existing candidates, and Idahoans’ concerns about Congress.

“My objective was to find out what people were thinking,” Phenneger said. “What I found confirmed that I had the qualifications to run.”

He noted that 80 percent of the respondents to his poll said they were unhappy with the ethics of Congress. “I knew people were dissatisfied, but I had no idea there would be that degree of dissatisfaction,” Phenneger said.

He said his history of negotiating between labor and management on highly complex conversions to employee ownership – including for Rosauers and other area companies – shows he’s a problem-solver.

“If people trust you, you can solve anything,” Phenneger said. “That’s your problem right now with Washington, D.C. There’s a lack of ethics, a lack of accountability, and there is actually a systemic corruption.”

This is Phenneger’s first run for political office. Asked why he decided to shoot for U.S. Senate in his first bid for office, he said, “I figured that’s where the issue was.”

Phenneger’s poll found that Risch, a Republican, was viewed favorably by 49 percent of respondents, and unfavorably by 19 percent; while LaRocco, a Democrat, was viewed favorably by 32 percent and unfavorably by 22 percent. When asked who they’d pick between the two if the election were held today, 46 percent chose Risch, 27 percent LaRocco, and 27 percent were undecided.

The poll also found that top concerns included Iraq, political corruption and the economy, and that respondents wanted their senators to take strong stands on water, illegal immigrants, education and health care costs.

Other candidates in the running for the open Senate seat include former eastern Idaho elk rancher Rex Rammell, Caldwell real estate broker and Iraq war veteran Scott Syme, and former Caldwell city councilman Kent Marmon, all Republicans. The seat is opening due to the retirement of Sen. Larry Craig.

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