CARY, N.C. — Frank Roche, an economics instructor and commentator, says he’s been working to get into politics for five solid years, and now sees the debate over immigration as his chance to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Roche sees immigration as the nation’s biggest obstacle to economic growth and prosperity. He argues that Rep. Renee Ellmers, the Republican who holds the seat he’d like to win, supports amnesty for illegal immigrants _ an assertion that Ellmers denies.
Ellmers won her seat representing the Second Congressional District in 2010 with tea party support. She was part of the Republican freshman class whose victories handed control of the House to Republicans. Ellmers quickly supported the GOP House leadership and lost favor with tea party groups.
“Renee, she kept going left as I see it,” Roche said in a recent interview at a coffee shop in Cary, near his home.
As proof, Roche cited a number of her votes, including her support for the Farm Bill _ too many corporate giveaways, he said _ and for the 2011 Budget Control Act, which averted default, cut spending by $1 trillion and raised the debt ceiling.
But he mainly criticizes Ellmers for suggesting that immigration policy should include a way for some of the millions of people who are in the United States illegally to pay a penalty and move to legal status.
In an op-ed in The Fayetteville Observer in January, Ellmers wrote that she supports stronger border security and more enforcement of immigration laws, as well as a legal status for those who acknowledge entering the country illegally and make amends.
Ellmers says that’s not “amnesty” or any special “path to citizenship.” But Roche argues that it is. The Randolph Tea Party recently agreed and endorsed him, saying the group opposed “amnesty or any other path for legalization of illegal immigrants.”
Roche wants a sharp reductions in legal immigration _ just enough people to meet the needs of industries that depend on immigrant labor. He also calls for an end to multilingual government communications and access to education and medical care for illegal immigrants.
Roche has been meeting with voters wherever he can, but hasn’t raised as much money as he needed for ads . At coffee shops and lunch spots in Cary and Sanford recently, many voters said they didn’t know about his views. His first radio ads were expected on Tuesday.
Many also had no opinion of Ellmers, or said they were tired of politics and had no interest discussing it.
Robert Hoyle, going to lunch with his family at the Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford, said he liked Ellmers, but “some of the opinions on amnesty surprised me.” He said he would look at Roche as a candidate before making up his mind.
Shannon Spakes of Apex was on her way with her husband, Gary, to the Sportsman’s Center in Cary. She said they voted for Ellmers in the past, but hadn’t decided yet how they’d vote in the primary.
“I like that she appears very personable whenever I see her on the news,” Shannon Spakes said. “I do think she relates to a broad base of people.”
The couple also agreed with Ellmers on her opposition to the Affordable Care Act, but immigration was also was a concern. Shannon Spakes said she thinks it adds to welfare costs.
Conservative political commentator Ann Coulter supports Roche's candidacy and that of one other Republican primary challenger to a House of Representatives incumbent _ David Brat, who is challenging House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
"Anyone opposing an incumbent Republican for any reason other than amnesty is a fraud or an idiot,” Coulter wrote recently in the conservative weekly, Human Events. “Right now, immigration and Obamacare are the only things that matter. Since every Republican voted against Obamacare, that leaves only immigration."
Roche hasn’t gotten a lot of Republican financial support. He raised only $17,551 from Jan. 1 to March 31, below his own expectations and well under the $324,330 Ellmers reported to the Federal Election Commission in the same period.
Ellmers campaign spokeswoman Jessica Wood said Roche "is not a serious opponent as evidenced by his most recent finance report, clearly showing his lack of support."
Ellmers appears intent on not raising Roche’s political status. She recently canceled an interview about her primary race and declined to reschedule it. She also has declined to speak along with Roche in several radio interviews. An incumbent often will ignore a challenger in a primary, Roche noted, and that’s what Ellmers seems to be doing.
The Ellmers campaign planned to release its first TV ad on Tuesday and run it through the primary day. It focuses on her opposition to the health care law.
“As a small business owner and nurse, I know how Obamacare hurts our economy,” she says in the ad.
Ellmers, 50, grew up in Michigan, where she became a nurse and met her husband, Brent Ellmers, a physician. They worked together in a general surgery practice in Dunn. She has made her opposition to the health care law her main issue _ voting with fellow Republicans at least 50 times in the House to repeal or defund it. All have been blocked in the Senate.
Not all Republican voters agreed with her entirely.
Bob Morris, who grew up in Sanford and was back recently to visit his mother, said he was a lifelong Republican, but felt the party was getting more conservative than it was under former President Ronald Reagan.
The health care law isn’t going away, and people who are poor are better served with insurance than by going to emergency rooms for routine care, he said. Republicans “need to think more about the little guy…who’s out here struggling, making $35,000 to $40,000 a year and having trouble making ends meet,” Morris said.
He said both parties “really need to sit down and work together.”
Roche, 51, grew up in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but said the Northeast is too liberal to give him any opportunity to run for office. He earned master of arts degree in economics from the University of Rhode Island and worked in foreign exchange trading for 21 years for banks in Boston and New York. His currency trading required him to pay attention to economic developments in the United States and abroad to understand their impact on financial markets, he said.
He quit his banking job in New York in 2007, looked for a new place to live and become part of what he calls the "national conversation," and chose the Triangle.
From 2007 to 2009 he worked as an unpaid commentator for Fox Business News in New York, part of a job trial that did not result in a paid position. He also has been an adjunct instructor in economics at Elon University and has commented on economics and current events on a weekly local radio show.
He lost two previous Republican primary races: in 2010 for North Carolina’s Fourth District seat in Congress and in 2012 for state treasurer.
On the campaign trail, Roche argues that he would cut every government program including national defense and look at ways to increase revenue through tax code simplification, including fewer deductions.
He said immigration policy is “a complex issue full of emotion and it’s difficult to talk about.” But he said that voters he meets are “glad to hear somebody talking about it openly and honestly.”
“From an economics perspective, which is my world, there’s a way to discuss it that that isn’t about people being bad or about race,” he said. “It’s just about what’s best for our economy and for Second District citizens and the creation of wealth.”