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Jimmy Farris

Football pales to the bloodsport of politics

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When Jimmy Farris was in fifth grade his teacher asked him to draw a picture of himself in 15 years.

"I drew a stick figure of a man with a football," he remembered. "I knew I would play in the National Football League."

He was right, though he is far from a stick figure. Farris played for NFL teams in Atlanta, Jacksonville, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and was part of the 2002 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Even though Farris didn't picture himself as a congressman when he was in elementary school, he said it's a natural progression from professional sports to politics, and that's why he's the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Rep. Raul Labrador in Idaho's First Congressional District.

If you weren't running for Congress, what would you be doing?

I was hosting a television program called Sports Nite in Atlanta. I used to say to myself, "I can't believe people call this work." Ultimately, I wanted to do something more meaningful.

What was the best part of playing professional football?

If football is what you love, it doesn't get any bigger or better than the NFL. For me, it was the realization of a dream.

How violent is the sport?

Very violent but it varies from position to position. I was lucky as a receiver. I didn't take many serious hits.

Do you look at a political campaign as requiring conditioning?

One of the first guys I met when I announced my candidacy was Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. He played football as a young man, and he told me that his football background prepared him better than anything he had ever done in life to be a candidate and run for office: commitment, discipline, dedication and passion, on top of knowing how to deal with success and failure. A lot of people told me when I first announced, "You're just a kid. You think you're tough enough for politics?" I thought, "Do you know what I've been doing for the last 15 years?" One thing that won't be an issue is my toughness.

My guess is that you were not overly thrilled with your results on primary night. (Farris defeated Democratic challenger Cynthia Clinkingbeard by 5 percentage points on May 15, despite her arrest for allegedly threatening employees of a Boise store with a handgun.)

We made a conscious decision not to campaign against Cynthia. Regardless of the particulars, she had a right to a high degree of privacy and for people to not ask her a lot of questions about her situation.

But she ended up winning six counties in western and northern Idaho.

I was known to hard-core political junkies, but people who weren't engaged saw two names on the primary ballot that they had never heard of. We didn't do a very good job in reaching out to people who didn't know who I am.

But the most successful way to get your name out will undoubtedly cost you quite a bit of money.

I'll be honest with you. I'm disappointed in how important money is to this process. The truth is, with the right amount of money, you can get anybody elected.

Where do you believe your opponent is vulnerable?

Everyone knows that funding for education in Idaho is getting cut off at the knees. Yet Congressman Labrador has twice supported the so-called "Ryan budget," which would make drastic cuts to education. We can't go down that path. Regardless of what he says, he has proven over and over again that he doesn't support public education.

A second issue is food insecurity. One in four kids in Idaho public schools are getting free or reduced lunches. One in five families are in need of food assistance. But the Ryan budget would make drastic cuts to food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children program. My opponent has made a decision that he thinks those things aren't important.

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The top of the general election ballot will feature a race for the White House. My sense is that Congressman Labrador will link your name to President Barack Obama.

I'm not running for president. I'm not President Obama. My opponent keeps using the word "liberal." I'm not a liberal. I'm a Democrat and there's a difference.

How would you rate the first three-and-a-half years of the Obama administration?

You can say that we're not where we should be or you can say we're going in the right direction. I'm a positive, forward-thinking person.

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