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Nonini donates to Cameron challenger

BOISE – State Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who’s running for the Idaho Senate, has made a last-minute, $1,000 campaign donation through his political action committee to the primary election challenger of the sitting chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

That’s a form of political heresy in the Idaho Senate that Nonini hopes to join, where past attempts to back challengers to fellow GOP incumbents have brought major sanctions from the Republican caucus.

“It’s not particularly good form,” Cameron said.

Nonini’s Idaho Association for Good Government PAC made the contribution Wednesday to the campaign of Douglas Pickett, of Oakley, who is running against Cameron, an 11th-term senator and co-chairman of the Legislature’s most powerful committee, the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

Nonini, a fourth-term House member who’s making a bid to jump over to the Senate this year, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. His contribution surfaced in the campaign finance reports that are now required to be filed within 48 hours of any last-minute contribution of $1,000 or more. That filing requirement took effect on Monday.

Cameron responded, “Well, I suspect Mr. Nonini is free to contribute to whomever he likes. Obviously, that disturbs me, but it’s just the way it goes, I guess.”

He added, “We’ve had issues before in the Senate where we’ve had incumbents trying to defeat other incumbents, and of course we hope that doesn’t happen again, because there were some fairly severe consequences then.”

Just over a decade ago, then-Sen. Stan Hawkins, R-Ucon, backed challengers to several other Senate Republican incumbents at a time when the Senate was split 21-21 between Republicans and Democrats. Afterward, he was stripped of his seniority and sanctioned by the GOP caucus; he had to apologize to be readmitted to the caucus.

Cameron said, “It’s a little unusual for a House member to get involved in a Senate race, and it’s really unusual for a House member running for the Senate to get involved in a Senate race. But there are powerful interests and folks that would like to see me beat. They don’t want somebody who will stand up to them.”

Last year, Cameron was a prominent opponent of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna’s Students Come First school measure, which included cutting teacher salary funds to pay for reforms including laptop computers for every high school student and a merit-pay bonus plan for teachers; Nonini was the lead House sponsor of the reform legislation.

This year, Cameron proposed legislation – which unanimously passed the Senate – to eliminate the requirement to cut teacher salary funds in future years to pay for the reforms. Nonini blocked Cameron’s bill, instead introducing his own, which also eliminated the requirement for future years but added a clause saying the reforms would be the first priority for funding within the state’s school budget.