Robb Ryerse is not a native Arkansan, but he intends to shake up the political landscape of the Natural State.
He is seeking to oust Steve Womack, the Tea Party Republican elected to the House of Representatives in the 2010 GOP landslide, in the 2018 Republican primary. Despite his lack of experience in public office, Ryerse has garnered attention from the political observers in Arkansas and around the country. Backed by Brand New Congress, the pastor and Eisenhower Republican offers a uniquely different perspective on conservatism and a fresh vision for American politics.
Ryerse founded Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville, Arkansas over 12 years ago, and co-pastors the ministry with his wife, Vanessa. They moved to Arkansas after spending 10 years ministering to churches in New York, Central Michigan, and the suburbs of Boston. After watching people being made to feel unwelcome in church communities, they decided to found their own, based on the inclusive message of Christianity. Vintage Fellowship’s message and mission are clear, according to Ryerse: “We welcome all people… LGBT and folks from all backgrounds and creeds, and colors… even skeptics are encouraged to join us.” Ryerse’s church has recently joined an ecumenical group, OPEN, that embraces this inclusive ethos.
When Ryerse discusses his stance on issues that matter most to him, it’s clear that his faith informs how he sees the world and the policies for which he advocates. Discussing his previous support for Womack, Ryerse cites the congressman’s stance on halting refugee resettlement as the breaking point for him. As a pastor, he is actively involved with resettlement organizations, working with Canopy Northwest Arkansas to ease transitions for newcomers and support them while overcoming many of the barriers to a new life, such as learning English, finding a job, and accessing education.
Another major point of divergence is Ryerse’s unequivocal support for Medicare for All. This is not only a matter of financial stewardship for the candidate but a moral obligation as well. Ryerse believes that the Republican party has strayed too far from the ideas of making sure that every person has the ability to live on their own terms.
Republicans have held this seat since John P. Hammerschmidt’s election in 1966. In his last bid for re-election, Womack beat his Libertarian challenger by nearly 60 points. Ryerse has commented that he will “have an uphill battle” to primary Womack. It is worthwhile to note that Womack’s challenges from outside his party have been weak, but he has not truly faced any challenges from his own party in the primary.
As a native Arkansan who grew up in Arkansas’ 3rd House district, I am very excited by Robb Ryerse’s candidacy. While I am a progressive Democrat, I believe that Ryerse typifies the pragmatic politician who values results over rhetoric that can move the district forward. His message of faith-based and compassionate public service has the potential to resonate with Arkansas voters, and possibly his future colleagues in Congress.