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'Guy From Frog Jump' Aims To Restore 'Real America'

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'Guy From Frog Jump' Aims To Restore 'Real America'


'Guy From Frog Jump' Aims To Restore 'Real America'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GUY RAZ, host:

Now, unlike Jane Harman, Stephen Fincher really dislikes Washington, and he has to live here for part of the week. He's one of the 87 new Republicans in the House of Representatives. And like many of his colleagues, he tries to spend as little time as possible in our nation's capital.

He says he does this to preserve his Frog Jump common sense, as in his hometown, Frog Jump, Tennessee. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN has this profile.

BLAKE FARMER: When he is in Washington, Stephen Fincher sleeps on a pull-out sofa in his office. He calls it part of his conservative approach. He has found enough time to join the Washington fundraiser circuit, but he's home on weekends to see his family, check on the farm and keep up his tour schedule. He performs in churches with the Fincher Family Singers.

(Soundbite of music)

FINCHER FAMILY SINGERS (Music Group): (Singing) (Unintelligible) in our hands. (Unintelligible) heading to the promised land.

FARMER: The promised land for Fincher, at least in this life, is Frog Jump, a place that doesn't even show up on Google Maps. Other House members, some from Tennessee, have accused Fincher of making it up for the campaign. Driving in his farm truck, Fincher points to the proof.

Representative STEPHEN FINCHER (Republican, Tennessee): There's Frog Jump on my GPS. So it's there. It's a real place.

FARMER: It's a place that came to define Fincher the candidate and now congressman.

Rep. FINCHER: I'm known up there as the guy from Frog Jump. And it's a good thing. I really feel like we have drifted too far away from real America.

FARMER: To keep in touch with real America, Fincher says he'll keep his private health insurance instead of taking what's offered to congressmen. He says that will make it easier to know when premiums go up.

This 38-year-old doesn't have a resume that typically leads to influence: He's a cotton and soybean farmer. He didn't go to college. Fincher hadn't even been to Washington, D.C., until he decided to run for office.

Rep. FINCHER: I expected to get off the airplane and see the smartest people in the world. But what I realized was a lot of those guys ain't got sense enough to get out of the rain.

FARMER: It's a line he's used more than once to play up his common-sense credentials. Fincher admits, however, getting up to speed on issues takes time. But he says balancing a budget isn't rocket science.

Fincher's election wasn't guaranteed even in an anti-incumbent year. This district has historically sent Democrats to Washington. For some, Fincher is the first Republican they have ever voted for.

Mr. RICKY BEAIRD: When I found out Stephen was running, you know, I voted for the person, not the party.

FARMER: This is Ricky Beaird, a cotton farmer who just opened up the Beairded Frog. It's the only place in Frog Jump to get a bite to eat or something sweet.

Mr. BEAIRD: We just got the vanilla turned on.

FARMER: As Beaird swirls soft-serve ice cream into a bowl, he explains he started this restaurant to supplement his farming income after a couple of tough years. With Fincher's appointment to the House Agriculture Committee, Beaird says farmers like him have another voice.

Mr. BEAIRD: We're just down-home folks here. But still, we just like to be aware of what's going on and hopefully have a little say-so in it.

FARMER: Beaird has offered his little soda shop for town hall meetings. Fincher says he'll accept. And the first issue that needs input, he says, is raising the debt ceiling.

Rep. FINCHER: We need to make sure that we're not in panic mode here. If we do not raise the debt ceiling, we would still be able to pay the interest on our debt and keep up.

FARMER: Fincher says even on such a complicated budget matter, what constituents want will play a big part in how he votes, even if that means breaking with other Republicans. That hasn't happened yet, but Fincher says he's warned the party whip...

Rep. FINCHER: Always what leadership wants is not going to be best for my district. And I just want you to understand that, that I will have to throw you under the bus sooner or later.

FARMER: In his campaign, Fincher slammed career politicians and vowed to institute term limits. He recognizes now there's little chance such a bill would pass. But he's set a limit for his own service, no more than 12 years. Until then, he's trying to keep his feet on the farm, even while his head is in the halls of Congress.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

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