A pair of maroon boxing gloves hangs from a bookcase in Herb Harris's congressional office in the Longworth Building, proclaiming Harris "The Champ."
The gloves, a gift from one of Harris' constituents, commemorate a campaign victory.Nowadays, Harris looks to the gloves as a reminder of the legislative battles he has waged and the battle he is now waging to retain his 8th District congressional seat.
Harris was an amateur boxer in college and stayed in the ring during World War ii, when he served aboard a ship in the Pacific blowing up enemy mines.
But for the last six years, Harris has channeled his energies into trouble-shooting for the 464,000 voters of the 8th District, which encompasses Alexandria, southern Fairfax County, Prince William County and northern Stafford County.
His work ranges from helping the 300 to 400 constituents who write to him each week, to attending hearings before the three House committees he serves on, to roll-call votes on a variety of bills.
"It's a full-time job and if there were another few hours in the day, you could use that, too," Harris said recently as he tried to squeeze in a ham-sandwich lunch while reflecting on his upcoming campaign.
In his fourth match for a House seat, the 54-year-old Harris is opposed by Republican Stanford E. Parris, whom he ousted as a one-term incumbent in 1974, and my independent Deborah Frantz, who is running on a platform to reform marijuana laws.
Full-time campaigning won't really start unto the House adjourns Oct. 3, but Harris says he doesn't have the luxury of waiting until those last four weeks for voters to judge how he is doing. By his actions and votes, he says, he is in the public spotlight and accountable for hes deeds year-round.
The campaign means that Harris' already-hectic schedule becomes even more crowded. There will be few opportunities between now and Nov. 4 to hike through two of his favorite retreats -- Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Va., or Locust Park in Prince William County, which Harris successfully fought to have turned over to the county for a nature refuge.
"A walk in the woods . . .,"Harris says longingly, leaning against a baby-blue wall decorated with lithographs of Mount Vernon and its ancestral owners, George and Martha Washinton. "Automatically, you just feel great peace.
"It's the type of thing where you can just look at each tree, each bush and not have to worry about the telephone ringing. And you can do a lot of thinking there, too."
The serenity Harria describes contrasts sharply with the frenetic pace of hearings and House votes, campaign appearances and the dozens of town meetings he has sponsored in the 8th District.
At the opening of his Prince William election headquarters last week, Harris bounded on the scene with the apparent energy of an atom that had just been split. For each of the 50 or so well-wishers he had a handshake, a joke, a thank-you or a question about how the person was faring.
There was a quick speech for the demographic smorgasbord of young and old, black, white and Hispanic supporters, some of whom had just attended a Dale City hearing Harris called with Metro and state highway officials on Prince William's transportation needs.
The people of the 8th District, he said, launching into a theme he will emphasize in coming weeks, "finally have a full-time congressman, not some person up in an ivory tower or off flying Sopworth Camels someplace or running a car dealership on the side . . ."
The reference was to opponent Parris, whom a few days earlier Harris has characterized as being "someplace in between McKinley and Grover Cleveland."
Asked if he considers himself a liberal, Harris replied, "If it's liberal to be concerned about people, yeah. And if it's conservative to worry about waste and cutting spending, I have to claim to be a conservative.
"And if it's moderate to say people should have a voice in their government and a chance to get at their representitives on a fairly systematic basis, then I'd have to say I'm a moderate."
Harris' eyes flash and he punctuates the air with a fist as he talks about his accomplishments in office. He boasts that he has been present for more than 98 percent of the roll call votes in the House.
He is equally proud of the town meetings he has held to solicit consitiuents' opinions on everything from environmental problems to transportation.
Among his accomplishements in Congress Harris cites his work in defeating a D.C. commuter tax, an effort joined by other metropolition-area members of Congress; his participation in the fight to stave off the merger of Social Security and Civil Service retirement systems; his introduction of amendments to curtail year-end spending by federal agencies.
Harris adds that his three committee assignemtns -- the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, the District of Columbia Committee and the Judiciary Committee -- also help him exercise power that is crucial to benefit his consitituents.
The differences in the way he and Parris have conducted their offices, Harris said, will be the main theme of his campaign. And if Parris thinks he can ride in on Ronald Reagan's coattails, Harris adds, he is making " a horrible mistake," given the independent vote-splitting history of 8th District voters.
Harris hopes to raise $200,000 for his campaign, with about a quarter of that going to media coverage. So far, he has raised about $100,000.
The bulk of that has come from roughly 2,400 individuals, but contributors also include the political action committees of Time Inc., Federal Express Corp., American Apparel Manufacturers, the National Apartment Association, the American Parcel Service, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and PACE, the National Education Association's political action committee.
Harris, a lawyer, had been active in civic associations for 12 years before he decided to run for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 1967. He was prompted to run because, he says, the board "was in pretty bad shape" following a series of zoning scandls.
"The type of government that represents the land developers, the banks and the plantation owners is something that upsets me," said Harris. "I got into this because I enjoy working on community problems and seeing results."
Harris served seven years as a supervisor before giving up his seat in 1974 to run for Congress.
Although Harris faces two opponents in the current race, he considers Parris his major threat.
But Harris has no doubts that he is the man who should continue to represent the 8th District.
"You can't do this job if you don't enjoy it," Harris says. "The hours are awful, the demand on your time and attention is incredible. If this job is hard for you to do, something you have to make yourself do, you ought to get into something else, like flying old aircraft."