Meet the candidates running in the 5th Congressional District

Published: Oct. 30, 2018 at 6:32 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

When Congressman Tom Garrett abruptly announced his retirement in May to seek treatment for alcoholism, he guaranteed a new face in Virginia's 5th Congressional District.

With one week until Election Day, two political newcomers are vying for the largest congressional district in Virginia.

Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a former journalist, entered the race a year and a half ago out of frustration with the current administration.

“It was kind of a cascade of events,” said Cockburn. “It happened after Trump became president and he started to attack journalists as the enemy of the people. I felt very strongly about that. I think that we have no democracy unless we have a free press.”

Republican Denver Riggleman has been on the trail for less time than Cockburn, entering the race after Garrett announced his retirement, but he too entered into politics out of anger.

Riggleman opened Silverback Distillery in Nelson County with his wife in 2014. He said that process opened his eyes to the many regulations and challenges that small businesses face.

“After four years of this sort of regulatory and compliance weaponization against my wife and I, I felt completely powerless,” said Riggleman.

Riggleman, an Air Force veteran, calls himself a "Liberty Republican," fighting for personal property rights and less regulations. He was recently endorsed by President Donald Trump via Twitter and wants to join the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

He is taking money from corporate PACs, including the Freedom Caucus, but said he will not be swayed by their beliefs.

"Can they come off as being pretty rough around the edges or in fight mentality, hey I love it,” said Riggleman. “But nobody owns my vote."

Cockburn has vowed to take no money from corporate PACs and one of her main issues on her website is, “campaign finance reform.”

Cockburn, who was an investigative journalist for 35 years, owns a farm in Rappahannock County. She has focused on concerns in the 5th like tariffs hurting farmers and environmental concerns surrounding proposed natural gas pipelines.

"I live in a rural county. I understand rural counties. They're all quite similar. If you're in Rappahannock, it's not so different from Halifax and Charlotte County,” said Cockburn. “We have the same issues, the same problems."

Riggleman also opposes the natural gas pipelines, but he talks about personal property rights and eminent domain concerns, as opposed to environmental issues.

Both candidates have highlighted the labor shortage in the 5th District. Riggleman says workers need access to more training.

Cockburn believes renewable energy can bring job opportunities to the 5th District.

One of the starkest differences between the two candidates can be found in their views on healthcare.

Cockburn advocates for "single payer” healthcare. She wants to shore up the Affordable Care Act and protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

"Remember, before the Affordable Care Act, they didn't have to do that. If you had diabetes, if you had cancer….they could deny you coverage,” said Cockburn.

Riggleman said he would repeal the Affordable Care Act and wants less spending.

"We talk about 1.9 trillion in debt, that's actually over 10 years based on too much spending over tax cuts, you're talking about… one and a half times the GDP right now for Medicare for all,” said Riggleman.

He said he likes some aspects of the ACA, but raised concerns over lobbyists working too closely with the government and a lack of transparency.

“That’s why you have to have somebody that has a bipartisan look at how this can be done and tell people to go fly a kite if they’re coming there trying to use tax payer money to pad their pockets,” said Riggleman.

Both candidates say their past experience will help them fight for solutions in Washington.

Cockburn said she is using her journalist lens in a different capacity. According to her, the “Leslie Cockburn way” is listening to understand the unique problems that people in the 5th are facing.

"A good journalist shines a light on something,” said Cockburn. “And a good congress person goes one step further and tries to change it and change the law to benefit people."

As a small businessman, Riggleman said he will fight to make recently-enacted tax cuts permanent and work for smaller government.

"I'm always going to help you keep your own money,” said Riggleman. “I think it makes me unique, I can talk to liberty, I can be transparent and I can say certain things I don't think any other politician can get away with."

Cockburn opposes the tax cuts and says they add significantly to the national debt.

Election Day is November 6th. The 5th District contains the cities of Charlottesville and Danville, all of Albemarle, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Franklin, Greene, Halifax, Lunenburg, Madison, Mecklenburg, Nelson, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward and Rappahannock counties, and portions of Bedford, Fauquier and Henry counties.