Former NFL pro, running for Idaho congress, helps voters understand ACA

By Chris Anderson
12:12 PM
a:2:{s:5:"title";s:62:"Jimmy Farris, candidate for Idaho's 1st Congressional District";s:3:"alt";s:0:"";}

Nothing comes easily for Jimmy Farris, who last year declared he would seek to oust Freshman Republican Congressman Raul Labrador in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District. The former professional football player spent parts of six seasons on the fringes of NFL rosters, notably the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons, on a modicum of natural talent and an oversized dose of grit and hard work.

Just making an NFL roster was a huge challenge for Farris, and the 33-year-old Democrat sees his run for Congress, in a state that a 2010 Gallup survey showed leaned Republican by more than 29 points, as nothing different.

[Political Malpractice: Will health IT bipartisanship survive the elections?]

“Sure that makes it tough and is a factor that I need to overcome,” Farris said. “But it is not impossible. Walt Minnick won the district in 2008 as a Democrat, so it can be done.”

That said, in Idaho’s 1st Congressional district, which incorporates the far western and northern portions of the state, Democrats have won the seat only three times since 1966. And Minnick, who was one of 38 Democrats to vote against the Affordable Care Act, lost his seat to Labrador by ten percentage points in the 2010 mid-term Republican landslide.

Also making it more difficult is redistricting that is occurring for the 2012 election cycle, noted Shelley Landry, executive director for the Idaho Democratic Party.

“Geographically the district is about the same, but the largest county, Ada County, is now split as the line has moved west,” Landry said. “With the movement of the line, we did lose some moderate support that Democrats have experienced in the past.”

Farris doesn’t see the race in terms of party affiliation, however, and intends to run a campaign that seeks instead to promote the idea that he can be trusted to look after the needs of Idahoans and be a Congressman who intends to help break the partisan gridlock.

“Right now, we are at a point in our nation’s history where people are so tired of the partisan politics, the obstructionism, the divisive politics,” he said. “In 2012 we are going to see an election that is so much less oriented on party and party lines and more toward people electing officials that they feel like, regardless of party, have their best interests and are going to do what is best for them and their state.”

While both Landry and Farris believe the major issue of the campaign will be jobs and the economy, they have little doubt that healthcare and the Affordable Care Act will also get significant play. Again, the challenge for Farris will be how to frame the healthcare debate in a state where ACA is wildly unpopular and where state legislators have failed to act in any way on establishing a state health insurance exchange.

An important aspect of his support for the ACA in the campaign will be to help Idahoans better understand which parts of the law are already positively affecting them.

[Political Malpractice: How politics distort Americans' perception of health reform.]

“It is easy for people to be misled by those who want to frame the argument in order to serve their vested interests,” Farris noted. “Upon further inspection of key components of [the Affordable Care Act], I want to point out that 15,000 Idahoans saved $9 million on prescription drugs – almost $500 per person – and I don’t know if they would directly attribute that to this law.”

Also, Farris said he will argue that the Affordable Care Act will help small employers in the state via tax credits to businesses that help them provide health insurance to their workers. Currently, only 30 percent of small employers offer health coverage to their employees – the fourth worst rate in the nation.

“That means 28,000 small businesses in Idaho will be helped under the Affordable Care Act to provide coverage to their employees,” Farris added. “Closer inspection of this will show that it has and will continue to benefit the people of Idaho and I will help people understand what those components of the law are.”

For more of our primaries coverage, visit Political Malpractice: Healthcare in the 2012 Election.