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A year later, GOP wounds still healing in Idaho

Dan Popkey
March 27, 2013
Idaho Statesman

Sen. Bob Nonini's florid style makes his turn in floor debates must-listen moments for reporters. But when Nonini confessed last week that he regretted spending thousands in last spring's primary to defeat a fellow Republican, all eyes were on the Coeur d'Alene lawmaker.

Nonini's mea culpa was directed at the Senate floor sponsor of Gov. Butch Otter's bill on a state-run health insurance exchange, Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier.

"I have really grown to respect the senator from (District) 32 and will publicly say embarrassed by my actions last May in something that you're probably all aware of," Nonini said. "He's quite the gentleman."

Yes, his colleagues are well aware.

They're also surprised that the Senate freshman, who served eight years in the House, waited until the waning days of the session to fess up. And they remain puzzled that he didn't tip his hat to the other five Republicans he tried to unseat.

Still, Sen. Shawn Keough, one of the six targeted by Nonini, said she was grateful for his kind words about Tippets.

"It's obvious that it eats at him," said Keough, R-Sandpoint, who serves with Nonini on the Transportation Committee. "He's made remarks off and on in committee. Never directly. Just side comments in front of other people about how he wants to move past it. I know it weighs heavy on his mind. I think the senator needs to build some bridges."

"I don't care where people spend their money," said another Nonini target, Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover. "My disappointment is that I thought Bob and I were friends, and that's pretty hard on a friendship."

Tippets said Nonini approached him privately last June at the state GOP convention.

"I received what I considered an apology," Tippets said after Nonini's floor speech. "Maybe he didn't use that word, but that's how I took it."

Nonini is struggling to say out loud words a parent begins teaching a toddler: "I'm sorry."

Eskridge, Keough and the three others - Sens. Dean Cameron and Patti Anne Lodge and Rep. Christy Perry - all said Nonini hasn't apologized.

"Bob tries to act like 'no big deal' and 'let's be friends,' and takes opportunities for him and me to be together to diminish the impact," Eskridge said. "But I just treat him professionally. I don't go out of my way to be with Bob."

"I've put what he did behind us and moved forward," said Cameron, R-Rupert, adding that the GOP caucus decided against disciplining Nonini when committee assignments were made in December. "I had anticipated and expected that he'd moved on."

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Majority Leader Mike Moyle also tried to unseat Republicans deemed insufficiently conservative. Denney paid a price, being the first speaker in memory ousted from his job. Moyle kept his post, but his influence has waned after backing Denney against new Speaker Scott Bedke.

Nonini's Idaho Association for Good Government called Tippets a pro-union liberal in a $2,800 direct mailing and gave $1,000 each to opponents of Tippets, Cameron, Eskridge and Keough. The Nonini PAC also gave $8,000 to the Free Enterprise PAC, one of five committees coordinating campaigns against Cameron, Eskridge, Keough, Lodge and Perry. All six Nonini targets won.

Perry, R-Nampa, said she doesn't expect an apology.

"I always say hi in the hallway," she said. "I just kind of let it go. I don't hold a grudge."

Said Lodge: "I've tried to be kind and nice and welcoming to Sen. Nonini, because we want everybody to be successful as a senator."

But Lodge, R-Huston, was listening carefully to Nonini's confession: "He said he was embarrassed, but he didn't apologize."

Would she like an apology? "That's up to him," Lodge said. "It's his own conscience he has to live with. We're big people."

When I tried to discuss the matter with Nonini on Friday, he cut me off before I could get out a question.

"I have no comment," he said, repeating himself twice in answer to questions before saying, "Have a good weekend."

Eskridge said he'll continue to work with Nonini when it serves his constituents.

"We'll do business as we should be doing," he said. "People make friends, people gain respect, they lose respect. Bob has to be accountable."

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

Originally posted at

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