U.S. Rep. Lee Terry has picked up another challenger: a fellow Republican who says Terry is a “decent guy” but who has failed as a leader in Congress.
Omaha businessman Dan Frei, 50, described himself as a “constitutional conservative” who opposed the Bush administration's controversial bank-bailout bill known as TARP and who respects Republican congressional firebrand Steve King of Iowa.
Although he holds strong conservative beliefs, Frei said that if he's elected, he will not be beholden to any political party. He said he hopes to work with people on both sides of the aisle to find solutions.
“It's leadership. I want someone that will go and truly be the voice of Nebraskans rather than go to Washington, D.C., and line up with the party and then follow marching orders,” said Frei, whose campaign website was expected to go up Monday.
Frei is the second person this year — and the first Republican — to challenge Terry, who is considered one of the GOP's most vulnerable House incumbents.
Last month Democrat Pete Festersen said he planned to run, citing frustration with Terry over the partial federal shutdown. Also, Republican Chip Maxwell has said he is considering challenging the congressman.
Terry is one of several Republicans nationally who represent swing districts and who are feeling the heat over voter disapproval with Congress. Most notably, Terry came in for national criticism during the shutdown after he angered many by initially refusing to delay his paycheck, saying he couldn't afford it because he had a “nice house” and a child in college.
He later apologized.
This isn't the first time Terry has faced competition from the right wing of his own party, especially since the birth of the Tea Party movement.
In 2012, four Republicans sought to unseat Terry in the GOP primary. Terry won handily with 60 percent of the vote.
Two years earlier, a Tea Party-inspired candidate, Matt Sakalosky, also challenged Terry and garnered 37 percent of the primary vote.
Frei — whose name is pronounced like “fry” — said he supported Sakalosky in that election.
Frei is vice president of Kingston Training Group, an information technology company. He says the bulk of his adult career has been in sales, helping businesses organize and manage paper as well as computer data. He has worked in executive positions with Canon USA, Sharp Electronics and Kyocera Corp.
Frei hails from a suburb near Dayton, Ohio. He moved to Omaha with his family 19 years ago. At the time, his child was sick and needed treatment at Children's Hospital & Medical Center, and Frei had been offered a job in the city. His son recovered fully a year later, and, Frei said, by that time the family had “fallen in love” with Omaha.
Frei said he has had a lifelong interest in politics, but became much more active during the waning days of President George W. Bush's administration.
At the time, Frei said, he was frustrated with Bush's stimulus package for the economy and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, calling it a “mass expansion” of government. Terry voted for that bill.
“I'm a constitutional conservative,” Frei said. “I'm a firm believer in a smaller government.”
Currently Frei serves on the Nebraska Republican Party's central committee.
Frei said he believes Terry and other Republicans did not show any real leadership during the partial federal government shutdown. He said he disagreed with the party's message during the shutdown, although he agreed with the ultimate goal of defunding President Barack Obama's health care law.
He said Republicans should have pushed for a “delay” of the 2010 law, with the goal of persuading a majority of lawmakers to scrap the law in the future.
“When you have Republicans line up and say, 'We're going to shut down the government if you don't defund it,' that was the wrong message. They should have said 'This isn't ready for prime time; we need to delay this,' ” Frei said.
When asked for a current congressmen he respects, Frei cited King, a staunch Republican who has been a prominent opponent of Obama and who is known for his fiery rhetoric.
“He's a good, principled conservative who believes in smaller government,” Frei said.