Coeur d’Alene businessman Tony Paquin launched a Republican primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth on Tuesday, saying she has proven herself erratic and ineffective.
Paquin, a 38-year-old software executive who spent the past four months conducting research and traveling around the state to decide whether to run, said, “Republicans who I talk to are thrilled that I am running. In fact, you can feel a sense of relief.”
Donna Weaver, the wealthy Hayden Lake businesswoman who bankrolled and ran the campaign for the successful term limits initiative in 1996, will be Paquin’s campaign chairwoman.
Weaver said she’ll make fund raising a priority. With her husband, Chick, a retired CEO of Clorox Corp., Weaver has contributed $139,749 to Idaho and national political campaigns since 1994, and has connections with national conservative groups.
“We’ve already had a lot of people express a lot of interest in Tony,” Weaver said. “People are delighted to have a conservative alternative with significant experience in the private sector.”
Chenoweth dismissed Paquin’s criticisms and said it’s too early to get into a political campaign just eight months after the last election.
“I’m going to focus on what the people elected me to do, and not worry about someone else’s political ambitions,” Chenoweth said in a statement. “I am fighting for Idaho jobs, I am fighting for lower taxes and a balanced budget, and I’m fighting for private property rights.”
Paquin, who calls himself a Christian conservative, said jobs, education and tax reform are his top issues. He favors a “low, flat tax” and wants to make Social Security, pensions, personal savings, inheritance and capital gains tax-free.
Although he supports more local control of education and would like to see federal education programs converted into block grants to states, he doesn’t favor abolishing the federal Department of Education unless it’s part of an overall restructuring of government.
“I think it’s a mistake for the Republican Party and Helen to single out the Department of Education,” he said. “It’s just a bad signal to send.”
Paquin has hired a Virginia political consultant who is researching Chenoweth’s record. The consultant, Terry Cooper, reported that Chenoweth switched her vote 33 times as votes were being counted during the 104th Congress. That puts her tied for first place in vote-switching.
In one case, Paquin said, Chenoweth was the only yes vote in a 434-1 vote against accepting President Clinton’s initial, unbalanced budget. Then, Chenoweth switched her vote to no.
“Maybe it’s because she’s confused and overworked, I don’t know,” Paquin said.
He also pointed to votes that seem to contradict Chenoweth’s stated views, like her vote against the line-item veto and a vote against a bill restricting the president’s ability to place troops under United Nations control. Chenoweth had spoken in favor of that bill and voted for it three other times, but was one of five Republicans to vote against it on the final vote.
Keith Rupp, Chenoweth’s chief of staff who filled in as a campaign spokesman on his own time Tuesday, said Chenoweth has consistently opposed the line-item veto as unconstitutional, although one 1994 campaign press release misstated her view. And he said she’s cast about 1,800 recorded votes in the House.
“I can tell you that Helen is known as one of the most consistent champions of smaller government and greater personal liberty of any of the people in the House of Representatives,” Rupp said, “so if he’s trying to accuse her of some sort of inconsistency, he’s barking up the wrong tree.
“I think that if you ask people if they have a clear idea of where Helen stands on the issues, I think that you’ll hear a resounding yes. I think her voting record matches that.”
Paquin said a poll he commissioned two weeks ago showed that half of registered voters in Idaho view Chenoweth unfavorably, and he noted that she “barely eked out a victory over liberal Democrat Dan Williams (in 1996), winning with a 2 percent margin.”
Paquin said he plans to contribute about $25,000 of his own money to get his campaign started, but hopes to raise $300,000 to $400,000 by the primary. He said he won’t take money from alcohol or tobacco PACs, and criticized Chenoweth for doing so.
Paquin and his wife, Lorrie, have a 6-year-old son.
With his brother Gary, Paquin started Agency One Corp. in Phoenix in 1988, developing software for the insurance industry. He moved the company to Coeur d’Alene in 1991, where it provides 130 jobs. The brothers sold the company in 1993 and now have a consulting firm.
Gary Paquin will be his brother’s campaign manager.
Andrew Arulanandam, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, said, “I know Tony. He’s been a great Republican, a good contributor to the party.”
The Paquin brothers have contributed $8,800 to Idaho Republican political campaigns since 1994, according to state records. And they gave $5,300 to federal Republican campaigns, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
But Arulanandam said Chenoweth is “a tenacious campaigner” who survived a well-funded Democratic challenge to win a second term. Plus, she chairs a congressional subcommittee on forest health.
“From the way things look right now, it looks like it’s going to be a real uphill battle for Tony,” Arulanandam said. “That’s the political reality of it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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