Fourth-term state Rep. Bob Nonini is running for the Senate, but his actions in the primary – pouring thousands into the campaigns of unsuccessful challengers to several sitting GOP lawmakers, including three senators – could make him an unpopular arrival there.
“I’m getting back-door support from moderate Republicans,” said his Democratic challenger, Kristy Reed Johnson. “Mr. Nonini has left the center of the party.”
Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “I’m going to have some bridge-building to do, I’m sure. And I’m confident that I can do that.”
It’s the hottest race in North Idaho’s District 3, a heavily GOP legislative district that nevertheless has Democrats mounting challenges for all three seats. Johnson’s husband, Ronald K. Johnson, is challenging Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, while fourth-time Democratic candidate David Larsen is up against GOP primary winner Ron Mendive for Nonini’s old House seat.
But the action clearly revolves around Nonini, who affronted the very GOP caucus he hopes to join in the Senate with his controversial moves in the primary.
“Obviously, it’s going to be somewhat awkward for him,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “I certainly don’t condone what he did and I don’t appreciate what he did. Sanctions, disciplinary action, those are all possibilities.”
Hill added, “I’ve talked to Rep. Nonini, I went to his home and visited with him and his wife, and you know, we want to be able to help him to be successful as a state senator. But we have to look after the whole body, and make sure that we’re successful for the people as a whole.”
The three GOP senators Nonini targeted for defeat in the primary through his PAC, the Idaho Association for Good Government, were left smarting.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said after the primary that she was “disappointed” by Nonini’s support of her tea party challenger, Danielle Ahrens, whom she handily defeated. “I don’t understand what he hopes to gain by that, because the Senate operates on seniority and civility,” Keough said. “He certainly has not gained any good will.”
Nonini also invested heavily, and unsuccessfully, in the campaigns of the primary challengers to both Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, the chairman of the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, and Sen. John Tippets, R-Bennington, and Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover.
Said Johnson, Nonini’s Democratic challenger, “What he did to Shawn Keough and Dean Cameron is nauseating.” She said, “He’s on a power trip and I’m on a people trip. I like people and he likes power.”
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who’s served with Nonini for four terms, said, “It breaks my heart to see someone take on such good legislators in such a negative way, that are going to have repercussions on him. He did not have to do that.”
History shows consequences for such moves can be grave. 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, for a time losing all his committee assignments and not being admitted to the caucus.
“I think I’ve been extremely effective,” said Nonini, who chaired the Education Committee for his last three terms in the House and co-sponsored the controversial Students Come First school reform laws. I’ve listened to my constituents and I want to take that same success I’ve had in the House to the Senate.”
Asked if he regrets his moves in the primary, Nonini said, “Oh, I don’t know if regret’s the right word. But you know, you can’t go back and change the past. You only go forward, so I’m not one to look back and spend a lot of time on that.”
Henderson, who in past years has run as a district team with Nonini and retiring Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “There were people disappointed and I think confused on what he was doing. But Bob is Bob, and besides, he’s been a good legislator, and I fully expect him to be elected.”
Nonini noted that he has his usual joint billboard up in Post Falls, touting all three GOP candidates in the district. “We Photoshopped out Hammond and Photoshopped in Mendive,” Nonini said.
Hammond hasn’t been active in the campaign and declined to comment.
Johnson, who’s run for the Legislature twice before, acknowledges she’s running in a strongly GOP district. Nonini said, “I think I’m much more in touch with the majority of my constituents.”
Idaho Senate, District 3
OCCUPATION: Insurance/annuities broker
NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Fourth-term state representative; three terms as House Education chairman; led House sponsor of Students Come First school reforms. Also sponsored financing bill for Post Falls freeway interchange, aquifer protection legislation and bill to increase number of charter schools. Kootenai County GOP chairman, 1998-2004. Past president, Coeur d’Alene Rotary, Spokane River Association, Idaho Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers. Founding member, North Idaho Pachyderm Club. Wallace native.
KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: Backs eliminating Idaho’s corporate income tax by phasing it out over three years. Supports eliminating personal property tax on business equipment, but opposes state making up lost revenue to counties. Wants to see school reforms through and make state’s tax structure more business friendly.
Kristy Reed Johnson
OCCUPATION: Works in corporate payment solutions at US Bank
NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Worked 31 years as flight service manager and flight attendant for TWA, flying internationally. Co-owned Accent Interiors in Spokane, 1997-1999. Active with Community Volunteers, Post Falls Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters and other groups; homeowners association president, 1997-2011. Flew Cambodian airlifts in 1972-73, bringing refugees to the United States on military air charters.
KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: Bring more balance to Legislature; says there’s currently “no compromise, there’s no discussion, there’s no governing, just bullying – that’s not healthy for democracy.” Opposes school reform laws, says they’re “designed to do two things: Destroy organized labor and to privatize education.” Wants improvements to state’s infrastructure, including broadband Internet expansion into rural areas.
Idaho House, District 3, Seat A
OCCUPATION: Self-employed, excavation and construction business
NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: “I’m an informed voter and American citizen.” Kootenai County GOP precinct committeeman for two years; chairman of elections subcommittee. Has worked in mining, logging and construction. Avid sportsman.
KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “My main things are to try to preserve liberty.” Favors pushing back against federal government on Forest Service land management plans, EPA regulation, wolves and health care reform. Favors more school choice, “be it public, charter, private or home school, it is a parent’s decision.”
OCCUPATION: Retired high school math teacher and coach, adjunct math instructor at North Idaho College since 2002.
NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Fourth run for the Legislature. Bachelor’s degree in math education, master’s in educational administration. Teacher and coach for 30 years. Veteran. Volunteer for Art on the Green, other community events; was active with Panhandle Coalition. Avid skier and golfer.
KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: Wants to “fight to keep public education well-funded and working well,” and to review existing sales tax exemptions to see which have outlived their need. Wants to work toward more civility, compromise.
Idaho House, District 3, Seat B
OCCUPATION: Incumbent; retired marketing executive and newspaper publisher
NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: Serving fourth two-year term in House. Former Kootenai County commissioner, 1983-’91; former mayor of Post Falls, 1980-’83; World War II veteran, U.S. Army; consultant on public administration and economic development in eastern Europe, 1993-2003; American Legion Post 143, Post Falls. Former member of legislative joint budget committee; current vice chair of House Business Committee.
KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: Promises to continue his emphasis on economic development and creating jobs. Supports legislation to promote a competitive marketplace for health insurance; backs phaseout of the personal property tax on business equipment. Will work toward Idaho taking primacy on wastewater permitting, giving the state Department of Environmental Quality the lead role rather than the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Ronald K. Johnson
OCCUPATION: Retired airline pilot and military pilot
NOTABLE EXPERIENCE: First run for office. Degree in aeronautical engineering; 30 years flying commercially for TWA; 10 years flying Air Force fighter aircraft. Former court-appointed special advocate for children through CASA program. Active Democrat and community volunteer.
KEY CAMPAIGN PROMISES: “I’d take on the lobbyists – I think they destroy our system.” Will take no campaign contributions to avoid “owing anybody anything.” Opposes allowing for-profit firms to influence education policy; favors school improvements. “I think Idaho’s in danger of becoming a Third World country with education.”