Robb Ryerse (pronounced: Ryer-see) is running in the 3rd Congressional District in Arkansas as an Independent Republican. He was interviewed by #WeThePeople on October 18th, 2017. He was the first Republican interviewed on the show and I (and no doubt not just I) was very impressed – and surprised. Read on…
Robb’s campaign ad starts with an extract from a Fox news interview. This is what he has to say “The system has been working for the people in power rather than everyday Americans. The experience that I’ll bring to this job is someone who listens and cares and understands, and will help work for solutions that will actually make a difference in people’s lives.” He continues and explains why we need to put people ahead of party, and tells us that we can do so by supporting an Independent Republican for Congress.
“People are more important than party establishments and corporate lobbyists.”
Robb is a lifelong Republican, but over the last several years he’s been pretty disgusted with the direction his Party has taken. He wants to do something about that. He explains to us that he has gotten to know many people over the years, and discovered that so many of the narratives that he had been told, such as those he heard about the LGBT(Q+) community, Muslims, Minorities and People of colour, were not true. Wow says John, that’s powerful to hear. Robb grew up as a really strict fundamentalist Christian, eventually abandoned all of that and his faith takes a much different shape these days.
“His deep commitment to giving people the time and room to grow, produced a longing to start a community (Vintage Fellowship) founded on grace. (Robb graduated from Biblical Theological Seminary and Baptist Bible College in Pennsylvania.)
He started a church – one that allowed questions, struggles and doubts - in N.W. Arkansas 12 or so years ago, with his wife. Everyone - and he emphasizes everyone, is welcome there. Lots of people from different backgrounds and perspectives come together, learn from and love each other… it’s a wonderful place says Robb. Congratulations, says John, for creating such a place. If I were to go to a church, that’s the kind I’d be looking for – one that is really more about helping people rather than following one particular belief.
The election of President Donald Trump was an eye-opener, and caused Robb to become involved in ways he hadn’t imagined in the past. He and John agree that the direction the country has taken is a frightening one. One day Robb’s wife listened to a podcast, where the founder of Brand New Congress was laying out his “post-partisan” approach to the future of American politics. She knew that this was something for him. I now have a lot of hope regarding the future of the country, he says. BNC (which has since endorsed him), is a practical, tangible way that people can make a difference and rescue the country from the establishments and from corporate interests, Robb says.
Do you believe the Republican Party represents Christian values today, John asks.
We’ve got a problem with big religion in our country, Robb replies. He speaks of an Evangelical establishment that has sold its soul for the opportunity to be influential in Washington. When he listens to Christian leaders on TV, he doesn’t feel as though they speak for him, or many of the people he knows.
Before we can solve the biggest problems we face as a country, we need to drain the swamp (of corporate lobbyists and the politicians in their pockets). To do so we have to be willing to stand up and donate, vote and volunteer, he says. Those of us who care, need to take control of things for ourselves. Robb is asking pragmatic Democrats, Independents and principled Republicans in his District to support his campaign, because the best opportunity to beat Steve Womack is in the Republican primary. John mentions that Robb is more progressive than the Democrat in the race. Robb tells us that BNC recognises that the best way to unseat these incumbents in very blue or red districts is from within their own parties. A Republican candidate in Montana can body-slam a reporter and still get elected, or Democrats can spend a record amount of money in Georgia and still lose. There are some Districts that are just going to elect a Republican no matter what, and what I ask folks is “Who do you want that Republican to be - Steve Womack or me?” Great question says John.
The YouTube audience want to know if Robb supports the government supporting Planned Parenthood. He says that he gets frustrated with Republicans talking about Planned Parenthood, because it feels to him like a bogeyman that is about scoring cheap political points rather than actually talking about real issues. When it comes to abortion, personally he tells us that he is pro-life, however he doesn’t think the best way to reduce abortions in America is through criminalization, because what we’ve seen - especially over the last 8 years, he says, is that abortion rates were actually below where they were pre-Roe v. Wade. The reason for that is because women have had greater access to healthcare and education. So gutting Planned Parenthood is not the way to reduce the number of abortions in America. My answer often doesn’t satisfy pro-life or pro-choice people, but the reality is we haven’t had much movement on that issue in decades, and where we need to have movement is by making sure women have access to healthcare and education. John agrees and says that there is a law in place. We don’t need to be arguing about that. We need both sides to be figuring out how to make it better for the people involved.
Obamacare would be another example John says. Robb clearly feels that there are some issues with the ACA, and he personally supports Medicare for all. The ACA doesn’t go far enough and there are elements of it that are failing that don’t need to. For me the acceptable number of Americans without healthcare coverage is zero, Robb says. Medicare for all is the best way we can do that now in our current system. John is glad to hear him say that, it makes sense economically as we have seen, he says and Robb nods. But do you believe as a Conservative that we have the money to pay for this, John continues. I think says Robb that we ought to be focusing on investing the vast amount of resources that the government has, in ways that are going to benefit the most Americans possible. That’s the litmus test for me. We need to spend wisely and competently and we need to reduce government waste. Making sure all Americans have health coverage benefits the economy and it’s really good for small business. He tells us of a friend who owns a small business and who is constantly bumping up against the 50 employee threshold, and he won’t hire his 50th employee because he doesn’t want to have to provide health coverage that is going to (make) a major shift in the bottom line for his company. With healthcare for all / Medicare for all, small businesses could create jobs and grow, and grow the economy, without that impediment. Imagine says Robb…Tomorrow in N.W. Arkansas, there is a woman who is going to be sitting at her desk, she hates her job, and she has got an idea for the next great American company, but she’s too scared to quit her job and lose her health coverage, because she has a daughter at home with a pre-existing condition! The current system does not support entrepreneurs, start-ups, people willing to take a risk to grow our economy and to provide the kinds of goods and services that we’re longing for as a country, and it should not be that way! There are good economic arguments that Republicans can rally around to support Medicare for all. Great angle, says John.
Steve Womack, the Republican Incumbent doesn’t agree, they figure. He gets most of his money from PACS and is sponsored by Walmart. Robb says what is interesting about that, is that Walmart is in a major clash right now with Amazon.com. They are two big companies that are fighting over who is going to be supreme in the world of retail. One of the things that Walmart really wants is a federally enforced internet sales tax, because that is going to make life more difficult for Amazon. Congressman Womack is the number one proponent of this idea in Washington! Is this something any American wants? No! Apart that is, from Steve Womack’s biggest corporate donor. And, says John, more and more businesses that haven’t moved online, and should have done so earlier. They are suffering the costs now.
Did you know Robb asks, that it was a Republican (Eisenhower) who coined the phrase - Military Industrial Complex? And with that John asks him, where he thinks the corporate tax rate should be. The predominant economic theory that Republicans have held onto for decades hasn’t worked... Look at Kansas! Under Eisenhower wasn’t it 90%, now we’re in the 20% range, and the (actual) tax rate is nothing, for many of them. I don’t know about specific numbers says Robb, but the current (10/18/2017) Republican debate about tax reform is missing the biggest issue that exists in our tax code…the giant loopholes that allow the biggest corporations to get away with paying virtually nothing, as you just mentioned….moving money offshore, accelerated depreciation of equipment… along with buying and paying for political leaders and elected officials who will have specific tax cuts for particular industries. They have shifted the burden of our corporate tax code to small businesses. It shouldn’t be that way at all. “If corporations are people then they ought to pay taxes like everybody else.” President Reagan used to talk about the importance of job creation because that grew the base of tax payers (that) existed in the country, and we’re letting a base of tax payers off the hook.
Immigration is the next topic for discussion, and Laura asks Robb what his views are and whether he wants a wall. The wall is a terrible idea, he responds, a waste of resources and time and it doesn’t (jive) with American values. He thinks we need to get back to Reagan’s “Our country is a shining city on a hill” rhetoric. We need a swift path to citizenship for people who are here and are active members of our communities - and they need to be treated with the respect and the dignity that they deserve, he adds. We also really need to shift the language and the rhetoric about people. The term illegal is dehumanizing and further divides people. It is destructive to the tone of our politics and who we are as a people and it’s not true to American values. The answers given by Presidents Bush and Reagan in the 1980s on immigration do not (jive) at all with what is said by Republicans now. There is no such thing as an illegal human being says John. Exactly! Robb replies with a smile.
In the past year (before 10/18/2017), our State Legislature in Arkansas passed a concealed-carry law that allows people to carry, on college campuses, in churches and in bars. When I think about stupid ideas…adding guns to a bar fight is a really dumb idea, Robb says. I support the Second Amendment, but I also think we need common sense gun reforms that are going to help keep our country safer. We need to crack down on semi-automatic guns that are turned into automatic weapons, address mental illness - ensuring that those who have guns have the mental capacities to own them, have background checks… Should we have the same provisions for owning a gun as for owning a car, asks John. I mean registration, test, licence and insurance? Robb feels that that makes a lot of sense. I think we no doubt need to think about how it gets rolled out, he adds, probably be best on a State by State basis as with motor vehicles, and if different States were to experiment with different ways to do this, then it would be interesting to see what the impact would be. John smiles “Leave it to the States…” Well, I am a Republican laughs Robb. True says John.
John wants to talk about Reagan, as Robb has made many references to him, so he says that he does agree that Reagan knew the difference between a Nazi and “not a Nazi”. I don’t see the Republican Party taking such a clear stance against President Trump and what’s going on with White Supremacy. Robb agrees that the President is not critical of the latter in the way he should be. It’s not acceptable. We need to have policies that help to begin to break down the systemic racism built into our system, in the prisons for example, and in criminal justice in our country. Everyone should have equal opportunity, Robb states.
And on to Defence…Neither party John says, has said no to military spending. They are both raking it in off the subsidies from the global arms trade. How much says John, should we spend on our military? Should we match China and call it good perhaps? Robb refers to a chart that is on screen, pointing out that the U.S. currently spends as much as the next 7(or 8) countries combined on Defence... This is an opportunity to spend in a more wise and competent way. I’m sure there is much waste that could be cut out if we audited the Defence Department. Robb finds it of real concern that members of both parties recently passed a 70 billion dollar increase to the military budget, while children are literally losing their health coverage!! I think we could cut back on our military spending, still lead the world, still have more than adequate Defence and have extra resources to invest in ways that are going to benefit the most Americans possible. Well said, says John, and mentions waste again. Laura intervenes to comment that much of the military is stationed in places where we are harvesting and mining and taking resources…and they are protecting that activity, she says. She doesn’t think it’s Defence at all in a lot of cases.
Talk of fossil fuel extraction etc. leads to a question about the direction that Robb feels we should go regarding energy and climate change. Robb explains that in his faith tradition the story begins with God creating people and putting them on a planet, in a garden, so that they can take care of, steward and enjoy that world, not to rape and pillage it and to consume and destroy it. For me he says, taking care of the planet is a no-brainer. It’s one of our responsabilities as human beings. I would like to see the focus put on investing in a green energy economy, which would be good for the planet and the job market.
Comments in YT chat lead Robb to emphasize that Parties change over time, and that just because the current Republican orthodoxy is one thing, it doesn’t mean it has to stay that way for all time. He adds that the Republican Party platform of 1956 called for equal pay for women, worker protections, increased healthcare… and he tells us that a Republican founded the EPA, that the last major immigration reform (bill) was signed into law by a Republican and so on. People sometimes say to me you’re a rhino, Robb says, but I disagree. I say no. The people who have veered away from what the Republican Party has always been – they’re the ones who are Republicans in name only.
Robb says he sees three big problems with our system. Number one is corporate money, and We The People can do something about that by supporting non-corporate candidates, and thereby change the system. Number two is blind partisanship. We The People can support the right candidate regardless of party. Number three is the tone of our politics being so toxic, but We The People can make a difference, by speaking to and about each other in a more respectful way. We have the power to do this. Yes says John, we can become the democracy we want to see.
Right now says John, We The People also need a lot of money to fight these guys. You need boots on the ground but you know you’ll need money too. Congressman Steve Womack and Democratic Candidate Josh Mahony have plenty of cash he says. Progressives have to use different strategies. What will it take for you to win on the ground in your District?
First of all, Robb replies, it will take folks around the country supporting my campaign. Our average donation is about $25. We’ve got to be creative about ways to get out and talk with people. I can’t outraise Steve Womack, but I can outmuscle and out-organize him and I can have people that are passionate. We are connecting with people who want to see change, from pragmatic Democrats and Independents, to social justice Republicans who care about the environment, immigration, refugees and healthcare – who don’t see a Republican talking about those issues, and we realize that we’ve a really strong anti-establishment wave that is continuing to crash across the country. We saw that with Senator Sanders’ rise in the polls and his almost winning the Democratic nomination, and with the election of President Trump. I think we’ll see a lot of anti-establishment candidates who will do surprisingly well and I hope that I and the other BNC candidates are among them.
YT chat asks about his opinion on BLM and police corruption and brutality. I support BLM, Robb replies. He mentions the fact that his campaign hosts a lot of house parties where they talk to voters and answer their questions. One lady pointed out that he (Robb) doesn’t have to worry about his son coming home at night the way she does, about her sons … It’s heart-breaking, he says. I think we need to demilitarize the police, have independent review of police brutality cases … We have seen repeatedly the lack of justice and how frustrating that is. He tells us also that he has learned so much from Cori Bush, the BNC candidate in St. Louis, Missouri. She is on the front lines in Ferguson, and leading protests in Missouri. We need to take these things seriously.
To sum up, Robb tells us that he is not taking Corporate Interests or Super PAC money. His is a People-powered campaign run on the good will of people all across the country. You can’t donate to me through ActBlue Express though, because I’m a Republican, he reminds everyone. John adds that the audience agree that that is dumb. I’m a Go Big or Go Home type of person, Robb continues. I’m running against an Establishment Candidate who has never gotten less than 72% of the vote. Democrats haven’t even run against him in the last two elections, and he has never had a Primary challenge. Steep odds! But we have to do something!! This is our chance to send a message to the Party Establishments that People are more important than Party. I believe strongly that Members of Congress ought to represent the People of their Districts.
Thank you firstly to Robb's wife for putting him in touch with Brand New Congress, and secondly to Robb for listening, and re-evaluating what he was hearing around him. Thirdly, thank you for deciding to trust your gut and run with your own beliefs Robb. You give me hope going forward.
To all in Arkansas, the links are in the video description. Don’t forget that Robb Ryerse’s Primary is on May 22nd, 2018. Do consider voting for him. Good luck Robb!