Fresh off announcing his re-election campaign, Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, attended an event Thursday hosted by the College Republicans at the University of Virginia to discuss his first term and drum up support.
During his term, Riggleman has drawn much attention for actions that have displeased some conservatives in the district.
Thursday night, talking to several dozen UVa students at Nau Hall, Riggleman walked the attendees through his vision for the 5th District, laying out the case for his re-election.
This spring, Riggleman will face off with Bob Good, an athletics official at Liberty University who also sits on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, for the party nomination. Good has accused his opponent of betraying conservative values.
Despite facing a selection via convention — a less common and more campaign-heavy form of nomination — Riggleman said he is undeterred in his values. As a Republican with a Libertarian lean, the congressman said staying true to his view of U.S. constitutional values remains paramount.
“As you go through life, I don’t think you need to be a Republican or a Democrat; I think you just need to be a person who believes in individual liberty and choice. I think that’s what we’re all about — the right to individual liberty and the ability to choose what you want for your life without the government sticking its hand down your throat.”
Riggleman said he never expected to get into politics but felt a call to do so after having negative experiences with the state legislature.
As a co-owner of Silverback Distillery in Nelson County, Riggleman said he had tried on several occasions to change state laws that he believes overly restrict spirits distillers. While visiting Richmond several years ago to advocate for legislation, he said he was struck by how lobbyists were more motivated by money than by making important changes.
During a meeting with several lobbyists, Riggleman said he was told that, “if he wasn’t at the dinner table, then he was on the menu,” which angered the now-congressman and made him feel powerless.
“I don’t know if any of you have felt powerless or helpless in your life, like you don’t know where to go, but you feel like if you don’t get involved, someone is going to run you over — I decided I was not going to be run over anymore,” he said.
A couple of years later, Riggleman said he got a call about former 5th District Rep. Tom Garrett’s unexpected retirement announcement. The distaste for politics and a failed gubernatorial bid still fresh in his mouth, Riggleman said he initially was unsure about running for Congress but was swayed by some of his friends.
“Do you want people to live the way you choose for them to live or do you want people to be able to choose the way they live?” he asked the audience. “For me, that choice meant I had to get involved.”
Since winning election in November 2018, Riggleman said he has stuck to his values, even when they attracted the ire of some conservatives.
In July, Riggleman officiated the wedding of a gay conservative couple, which led some members of the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee to try to censure him.
Others have come to Riggleman’s side, according to The Roanoke Times, including former Virginia Gov. George Allen, a Republican, and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., who wrote to Riggleman saying he supports his re-election bid.
Though he did not mention the wedding directly Thursday night, Riggleman reiterated his views on individual liberty.
“I’m going to follow the Constitution and I’m going to ensure that individual liberties are first, and that gets me in trouble on the right and the left,” he said. “I’ll get in trouble about the Second Amendment because I don’t think we need any more laws, and if somebody wants to live with whoever they want, I think they get to do that because the Republican Party should be people staying out of your business, out of your pocketbook and out of your bedroom.”
Similarly, Riggleman said his view on effective legislation has led him to often seek out bipartisanship — a task that has gotten harder in an increasingly divided political time.
Describing working in Congress as “making sausage with oven mitts in the dark,” he said he was nonetheless committed to finding bipartisan solutions and compromising when necessary.
Caucuses are expected to start in localities in the coming month, leading up to a currently unset convention date expected between April 23 and June 9.
Whichever Republican wins will face off against the Democratic nominee, who will be elected via a primary in June. Currently, five people are seeking that nomination: Shadi Ayyas, R.D. Huffstetler, John Lesinski, Claire Russo and Cameron Webb.