Foreign holdings at issue in Delaware

A wealthy Republican candidate’s investments in Jamaica have emerged as an issue in the race for Delaware’s open House seat just days before the state party’s endorsement convention.

Businesswoman Michele Rollins (R) heads Rose Hall Developments, which owns and develops property in Delaware and Jamaica. 

Last year she wrote a letter to the editor of a Jamaican newspaper encouraging the government of the Caribbean island nation to develop its financial-services sector to compete with countries such as the Cayman Islands.

One of her main primary opponents, developer Glen Urquhart, says her advocacy is a sign of where Rollins’ “true loyalties lie: offshore and not in Delaware.”

“Delaware has banking interests; Jamaica has banking interests,” Urquhart told The Hill. “Would any of Mrs. Rollins’ Jamaican interests compete with Delaware’s major banking industry?

“She’s a pretty big player there,” he said. “There are fair and open questions. I think it’s up to her to explain to the voters how extensive her holdings are.”

Rollins said her business in Jamaica has nothing to do with the financial-services industry.

“We are not in the financial-services industry,” she said. “We are not in that business in the U.S. and we are not in that business in Jamaica. We sell real estate. If the government decides they want to do a financial center, we have real estate to sell to them.”

Delaware’s only House seat is an open contest this cycle, as Rep. Mike Castle 

(R-Del.) is running for Senate. Former Lt. Gov. John Carney is expected to coast to the Democratic nomination, while the GOP contest could be a difficult struggle that may affect the party’s chances of holding the seat in November.

The Delaware Republican Party holds its state convention this Saturday at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, where it will endorse either Rollins, Urquhart or Kevin Wade for the nomination. To capture the endorsement, a candidate needs 60 percent of the vote from the roughly 350 delegates.

“The goal and hope of the convention is to endorse a candidate and then the party comes together after and away we go,” said Seth Wimer, the party’s executive director. “Obviously, we want to focus on beating Democrats.”

Sources say Rollins is the favorite to win the party’s blessing.

But a candidate can continue to run even if he or she isn’t endorsed by the party. Voters pick the nominee in the Sept. 14 primary, but the party’s endorsement usually carries weight in that election, and the national GOP tends to back the endorsed candidate.

Urquhart said he will continue his campaign regardless of Saturday’s result, and Rollins is expected to do the same. The National Republican Congressional Committee has met with both candidates but has decided to let the race play out. That decision may be re-evaluated after the convention’s endorsement.

In her March 13, 2009, letter, Rollins wrote to the editor of the Jamaica Gleaner: “For many years, Jamaica has toyed with the idea of becoming an international financial centre like The Cayman Islands or Bermuda. We have watched our neighbours prosper from the international financial services industry while our economic growth languished. Now is the time for the idea to get further than the concept stage.”

Rollins says she wasn’t advocating that Jamaica adopt a similar tax structure to that of the Cayman Islands, where many corporations are headquartered to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

“The government was looking, like many countries, to [get] into the financial-services industry,” she said. “It creates jobs; it’s good for the economy. And they called us and asked us if we would encourage that through a letter to the editor.”

Rollins said her relationship with the country developed through her husband, John, who started the real estate company some 40 years ago. After he died in 2000, she inherited the controlling shares and started running the company.

“I know Glen would love to say this [campaign] is part-time, and my heart is there and blah, bah, blah, but that’s baloney,” she said. “All you have to do is go to all of the places that my husband and I have been in business and worked where we’ve created thousands and tens of thousands of jobs in Delaware to know that Delaware has been our focus.”

Urquhart said the issue of Jamaica and jobs will concern Republican voters.

“I think that the voters of Delaware want to know where her interests lie,” he said. “Do her interests compete with Delaware’s significant banking interests and all those banking jobs that Pete du Pont brought to the state a few decades ago?”