Openly gay 'progressive Republican' mounts primary bid against Austin Scott

Support for Congress remains as anemic as ever. Now a self-described “progressive Republican” affiliated with a coalition of Bernie Sanders alumni is arguing he has the winning formula for breaking through the Washington antipathy.

Danny Ellyson, a business owner and disabled Iraq War veteran, is mounting a primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, in Georgia's 8th congressional district.

His agenda centers on breaking through Washington's political tribalism to ensure that people have "the right to expression, the freedom of choice ... and to building relationships (based) on tolerance and respect."

He's operating under the umbrella of Brand New Congress, a political action committee started by more than a dozen volunteers from Sanders' presidential campaign that's pushing for evicting Washington's "corrupt and complacent political establishment." The group aims to recruit grassroots candidates that emphasize many of Sanders' signature policies, including free college, overhauling the criminal justice system and removing big money from politics.

In an interview earlier this week, Ellyson said he isn't a Sanders candidate.

"I didn’t vote for Bernie Sanders," he said. "I didn’t march for Bernie Sanders."

Instead, Ellyson said he wants to cut across the political spectrum to reduce red tape, aid businesses and veterans while expanding public transportation across the Southeast. He also vowed to help south Georgia farmers by wresting power away from powerful agrochemical companies such as Monsanto.

“The progressive nature of what we’re doing, and I do identify as a progressive Republican, is not about just throwing laws up because laws can be thrown up," he said. "It’s simply saying that I believe in taking away laws that are not productive. I believe in the restructuring and the evaluation of everything that’s in existence. Some things need to be removed and some things need to be created and negotiated."

Ellyson said his platform appeals to liberals, conservatives and discontented voters alike.

“It amazes me time and time again throughout this life how many (people) will show up at the table when they see true motive, true intention, true transparency and non-obstructed and non-compromised intent," he said.

The path ahead for Ellyson is an uphill one in the 8th District, which stretches south along the I-75 corridor from the Macon suburbs down to Tifton and Valdosta. Not only is he running as an openly gay Republican in a deeply conservative pocket of 24 counties, but he trails Scott in terms of money and name recognition.

Scott hasn’t faced a serious challenge at the ballot box since he defeated Democratic incumbent Jim Marshall during the Republican wave election of 2010. He was reelected last year with more than two-thirds of the vote and already has more than $400,000 in the bank.

Ellyson said he will not accept donations from special interest groups and will instead focus on building grassroots support.

As far as we can tell, Scott hasn’t formally declared his intent to run for reelection in 2018, but his campaign committee has been active. A Scott campaign spokeswoman declined to comment.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...