A 33-year-old Lewiston native who retired as an NFL football player in 2009 has launched a run for Congress in Idaho, taking on freshman GOP Rep. Raul Labrador in the 1st District.
“I’m a passionate person, and what I really want to do is make a difference, and be involved in something I really care about, something I think really matters,” said Jimmy Farris. “I don’t think most people like what they see happening in D.C.”
Farris is running as a Democrat, which puts him at a disadvantage in the Gem State, where Republicans currently hold all statewide elected offices, all the congressional posts and more than 80 percent of the seats in the state Legislature. But he says people will either support him or not, which he figures gives him 50-50 odds at a time when people are deeply dissatisfied with Congress. “I’ve faced longer odds than that being an average-size, average-speed wide receiver from Lewiston, Idaho, to make it and play six years and win a Super Bowl,” Farris said. “That was an uphill battle. … If entering into a situation where the odds weren’t favorable was something that I shrunk from, then I would have never achieved anything.”
Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant is excited about the new candidate. “Everybody’s always telling us we’ve got to do something different, we’ve got to think outside the box, we’ve got to come up with some new people,” Grant said. “I think this is exactly the kind of thing not just Idaho needs, but politics in general needs - new people that are not career politicians, that just want to work hard and do the right thing.”
Farris has never sought elected office before, other than an unsuccessful junior-high student body election bid. He didn’t even vote until 2008. “No, I’ve not voted very often,” he said. “There was a point early on while I was in college and shortly after where I just didn’t think it mattered. … I realized it really does matter.”
He said, “I’m a Democrat mostly because I feel like it’s important to take care of each other and give back. I’m somebody who’s been very fortunate, and I’ve always felt the need to help out those in need. … I want to make things easier for other people, make their lives better. I’m a Democrat because I’m interested in what’s going on in the lives of everyday people in this state and around the country.”
After retiring from the NFL, Farris worked for Comcast Sports Southeast in Atlanta - his last on-air appearance for them was in the run-up to the Boise State-Georgia game, offering commentary on the “Sportsnight” program. But he was in the midst of moving back to Idaho. “I’d always planned on being back here and raising my own family here … living the rest of my life where I grew up,” Farris said.
He was a football standout at Lewiston High School - where he also was named MVP as a senior in basketball - and went on to play football for the University of Montana, where he earned a degree in marketing and management. He was signed by the 49ers in 2001 as an undrafted free agent, before moving on to play for the New England Patriots, the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Redskins; he has a Super Bowl ring from the 2001 Patriots championship team. He established the Jimmy Farris Future Leaders Foundation to help underprivileged kids “excel academically, spiritually, socially and athletically.” And he has a past connection with Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston - Rusche was his pediatrician when he was a kid.
Farris, who’s now living in Meridian, said he’s not specifically targeting Labrador. But he said, “I feel like as a whole, Congress has shown an inability to work together and actually pass bills that will help people. At times, Raul’s been an obstructionist, he’s been somebody that’s not been willing to work with people on the other side or even people in his own party. I really feel like one of the things Congress needs right now are people who have the ability to work together with other people to get things passed. People are hurting, and that’s the bottom line.”
He compared it to being on a football team. “Every member of a team understands that his strength and what he brings to the table benefits and betters the team as a whole. Sometimes you have to put aside your own wants and desires and needs, and make sacrifices for the greater good. … That’s one of the things I know how to do the best, that’s what I’ve done for the last 20 years of my life.”
Idaho Republican Party Executive Director Jonathan Parker said the party thinks Labrador is doing “an outstanding job in Congress,” and said he’s hearing from his party’s members that they like “his votes and his tough stand against Washington overspending and over-regulation.”
Rusche said with Congress’ low approval rating, “This might be the time for somebody who’s totally different to make an impact.”
Idaho Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said, “We don’t exactly have dozens of people lining up to run that race on the Democratic side, and he’s a candidate that I think doesn’t fit the traditional mold of the kinds of folks we traditionally run. And I think that may be a very good thing.”