As Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador seeks re-election for a second term in Congress, he's made a name for himself in Washington, D.C., as a tea party favorite and hard-line conservative. He's frequently appeared on national TV and has been prominent in helping GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney court Hispanic votes around the country.
Yet his legislative record for his two-year term is light -- he's introduced and passed fewer bills than his first-term predecessors in the 1st Congressional District.
Labrador has sponsored seven bills and one amendment; one bill and one amendment passed the House. By comparison, his predecessor, Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, sponsored 27 bills or amendments in his two years in Congress, and 10 passed. Before him, GOP Rep. Bill Sali sponsored 16 bills and four amendments in his two years in office; one bill and two amendments passed.
"I don't think that your legislative career is measured by how many bills you pass," Labrador said. "In fact, one of the problems in Washington now is that we pass too many bills. We have a bloated government and we need less of it."
His Democratic challenger, former NFL football player and first-time candidate Jimmy Farris, sees it differently. "He's had a lot of harsh rhetoric about Democrats," Farris said. But Farris said if he went to a football team and said he was a good player and the team should sign him, "They'll say, 'That's great -- let's look at the numbers.'" He maintains the numbers show Labrador to be a weak player.
Labrador's profile is so high that he appeared on "Meet the Press" his very first week in office. He's gotten so many invitations to Sunday political talk shows that he's had to turn many down so he can return home to Idaho on the weekend to be with his family.
He was the first member of Congress to publicly call for the resignation for Attorney General Eric Holder over the "Fast and Furious" gun debacle. He launched a monthly "Conversations with Conservatives" event that draws national press to question him and other conservative House members while enjoying complimentary food.
He co-signed a letter to all 50 states' governors urging against setting up state-based health insurance exchanges; Idaho hasn't yet decided which way to go.
"I kind of have a big voice," Labrador said modestly.
But Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University, said Labrador would have bristled at such a letter when he was an Idaho state lawmaker. "I can't see him being impressed, as a member of the Idaho Legislature, what a member of Congress would be doing in sending letters to all 50 states," he said.
Farris, a Lewiston native and former University of Montana football star who retired from the NFL in 2009, returned to his home state in 2011 with an eye toward running for office. He's raised nearly $70,000 for his campaign, but that's not enough to get his message out on statewide TV. Instead, he's put 27,000 miles on his BMW driving up and down the 1st Congressional District and meeting with people.
Farris released 10 years of his tax returns and called on Labrador to do the same; Labrador ignored the request. Farris' returns showed during his most successful years as an NFL player, he gave as much as a quarter of his income to charity.
"I think it's so important that we do what we can to provide opportunities for people that don't have them," he said.
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