Pastor plans GOP primary challenge to Rep. Womack, running on ‘Brand New Congress’ platform

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 3,433 views 

A Fayetteville pastor says he plans to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep Steve Womack, R-Rogers in Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District.

Robb Ryerse, founder and co-pastor of Vintage Fellowship Church in Fayetteville, has declared his candidacy for the Congressional seat with the backing of the progressive group Brand New Congress.

“In these turbulent times, it pains me to see neighbor turn against neighbor,” Ryerse wrote on the website. “These are not mere disagreements over policy, we’ve begun to question the worth of our fellow man. Our nation is hurting right now; we desperately need to bridge our divide. I’ve served our Arkansas community for more than 12 years as a pastor, and now I’m answering the call to serve our district and our country by running for Congress to represent Arkansas’s 3rd. It’s time to heal, and I pray I can be of service.”

Besides being a pastor, Ryerse, 42, also holds a full-time job with 3 Tier Logic, a Canadian-based shopper marketing agency. He works from his Fayetteville home and calls on Wal-Mart suppliers.

Ryerse participated in a formal campaign announcement Tuesday night (May 16) via live stream with Brand New Congress. He said he was nominated by friends to BNC as a potential candidate several months ago, and has been “getting prepared” to become a candidate ever since. Ryerse noted he is the first Republican to be endorsed by the group.

“There are others [Republicans] in the pipeline, though, which is great,” he told Talk Business & Politics. “I’m a Republican, but I’m an independent Republican, and the party in the last 20 years is almost unrecognizable to what it used to be. And, frankly, Congressman Womack has been part of the establishment that has led the party in the wrong direction.”

Womack, previously the Rogers mayor for 12 years, was first elected to Congress in 2010. In 2016, he won a fourth term with 77% of the vote in the November election against Libertarian candidate Steve Isaacson.

Robb Ryerse

“I’m going to have an uphill battle for sure,” Ryerse said.

Ironically, Ryerse said he voted for Womack in the Congressional elections of 2010, 2012 and 2014. He did not vote for the incumbent last fall, however, based on Womack’s position against allowing refugees from the Middle East, Africa and other countries to settle in Northwest Arkansas.

U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, and Womack sent a letter dated Oct. 24 to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to express their concern about the resettlement program.

“That letter was the deciding factor for me that I would not vote for [Womack] in 2016,” Ryerse said. “I think he has been more concerned with getting along with the [Republican] party than representing what Arkansans in the 3rd district care about and are actually trying to do.”

Ryerse is the first Republican to announce his candidacy in the 3rd district. Nonprofit executive Joshua Mahony, a Fayetteville Democrat, has also launched a campaign to challenge for Womack’s seat.

Womack’s campaign office issued this statement on the early challengers: “The beauty of the electoral process in this country is that anyone can get involved. While many are starting to focus on campaigns and elections, that is far from being at the forefront of the congressman’s conversations. Congressman Womack is focused on his work representing the people of the Third District in Washington, DC and back home in Arkansas.”

Arkansas’ Congressional districts

Although the group has endorsed a Republican, the Brand New Congress has several platform positions that lean progressive or libertarian. For example, the group calls for universal healthcare coverage through Medicare, and blasts the “monopolies” of the insurance industry.

The party also says rising incarceration rates “are skewed in favor of targeting minorities” and reform is needed in this area. Such reform includes ending police militarization and improving oversight of police actions.

The group’s website summarizes its platform by saying they want to “reinvest in American industry, repair our crumbling infrastructure, rekindle our struggling schools, build an all-renewable energy system, eliminate burdensome regulations, rebuild our broken healthcare system, reform our unjust criminal justice system and restore the promise of democracy.”