‘Con­gress­man’ be­gins to sink in for Den­ver Rig­gle­man

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Mc­caslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

No sooner did Den­ver Rig­gle­man be­come Rep.-elect of Vir­ginia’s 5th con­gres­sional district in­clud­ing Rap­pa­han­nock County and he was sum­moned with fel­low mem­bers of the fresh­man class of the 116th U.S. Con­gress to weeks of ori­en­ta­tion in the Can­non House Of­fice Build­ing.

“I’ve not stopped since the day after the elec­tion,” says the Repub­li­can in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Capi­tol Hill.

“Twelve to 14 hours a day,” he de­scribes it. “But there’s the din­ners, and all the good stuff that goes along with this hon­ey­moon pe­riod.”

When he’s not been ex­plor­ing the hal­lowed halls of Con­gress, the Manas­sas-born Rig­gle­man, 48, a U.S. mil­i­tary vet­er­an­turned-dis­tillery owner in Afton, has been watch­ing with intrigue the events un­fold sur­round­ing the new Demo­cratic House ma­jor­ity.

He’s par­tic­u­larly fol­low­ing the bat­tle be­ing waged over the se­lec­tion of the fu­ture House speaker: the old guard's Nancy Pelosi, 78, who be­came the first-ever wo­man speaker in 2007, or a more youth­ful and cen­trist law­maker more closely aligned to the blue wave that helped sweep Democrats back into power?

“Did you see what Cortez did, storm­ing Pelosi’s of­fice?” asks Rig­gle­man, re­fer­ring to in­com­ing New York Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, who this past week marched an army of 200-plus young pro­test­ers to Pelosi’s doorstep — steps away from Rig­gle­man’s ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions — de­mand­ing con­crete ac­tion on cli­mate change. More than 50 pro­test­ers were ar­rested.

Rig­gle­man says he un­der­stands peo­ple’s global warm­ing con­cerns, but he ques­tions the "tech­niques” be­ing used by some Demo­cratic new­com­ers to get their voices heard by the party's lead­er­ship.

“You have to be solemn and re­spect­ful of the of­fice you take,” in­sists the Repub­li­can. “I have served my coun­try my en­tire life . . . and as we start our con­gres­sional ses­sion we have to take that re­spon­si­bil­ity and treat it with the re­spect it de­serves.

“This is such a mas­sive re­spon­si­bil­ity and an in­cred­i­ble honor, and it should be con­ducted with . . . in­tegrity go­ing for­ward.”

As Democrats pre­pare to re­take the ma­jor­ity, hav­ing just cho­sen lead­er­ship po­si­tions, and with the full cham­ber to elect a speaker Jan. 3, Rig­gle­man says “even the Repub­li­can Party seems to be merg­ing” into strate­gic po­si­tions dur­ing the on­go­ing shuf­fle of power, “un­der­stand­ing we are the mi­nor­ity.”

“I’m will­ing to work across the aisle,” says the con­gress­man-elect, es­pe­cially when “fight­ing for the 5th district” on is­sues rang­ing from agri­cul­ture to im­mi­gra­tion. He said re­peat­edly in the re­cent cam­paign, where he de­feated Rap­pa­han­nock County-based Demo­crat Leslie Cock­burn after cap­tur­ing more than 53 per­cent of the vote — 165,476 to 145,685 — that when rep­re­sent­ing what is best for his con­stituents he is pre­pared to march to the beat of his own drum, not any spe­cial in­ter­ests or even his own party.

Rig­gle­man be­lieves “bi­par­ti­san­ship” is ex­tremely im­por­tant at this early junc­ture “or noth­ing will get done, it would be an ab­so­lute stonewall on both sides. Even me, and I’m pretty con­ser­va­tive, I don’t want to see us throw bombs at each other.”

With Democrats now re-en­er­gized after tak­ing con­trol of the cham­ber, Rig­gle­man ex­pects the 116th Con­gress to start at a fast clip: tack­ling tax cuts set to ex­pire, de­bat­ing health­care and im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion, with plenty more on each party’s plate.

“What is the way for­ward?” he asks. “This is go­ing to be as in­ter­est­ing a ses­sion as you can imag­ine here.”

Rig­gle­man will be sworn into of­fice on Thurs­day, Jan. 3, fill­ing the seat of Rep. Tom Gar­rett, a one-term mem­ber of the GOP who an­nounced May 28 that he would not seek re­elec­tion, cit­ing strug­gles with al­co­hol.

He has yet to learn in which of the three House build­ings along In­de­pen­dence Av­enue his of­fice will be lo­cated. “We haven’t had the draw­ing yet,” he ex­plains.

But even without a desk, Rig­gle­man has kept busy in­ter­view­ing can­di­dates for what will be a siz­able con­gres­sional staff.

“I will have a chief of staff on board by the end of next week,” he pre­dicts, re­fer­ring to just after Thanks­giv­ing.

“We re­ceived hun­dreds of re­sumes,” he says, many of them Repub­li­can lead­er­ship staff who are los­ing po­si­tions in the power trans­fer. “There’s a lot of qual­ity peo­ple avail­able; I’ve prob­a­bly in­ter­viewed a dozen peo­ple for chief of staff.”

And speak­ing of ti­tles, Rig­gle­man says “con­gress­man” is just now “sink­ing in.”

“I feel it ev­ery day I walk into the Capi­tol Build­ing,” he says. “It’s about hu­mil­ity. We are ser­vants [tasked to] do the best job ev­ery day, and I prom­ise to do the best I can, to serve trans­par­ently and with in­tegrity.”

‘This is such a mas­sive re­spon­si­bil­ity and an in­cred­i­ble honor’

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Rep.-elect Den­ver Rig­gle­man and his wife, Chris­tine, at an ori­en­ta­tion din­ner in Stat­u­ary Hall, a cham­ber of the U.S. Capi­tol de­voted to sculp­tures of prom­i­nent Amer­i­cans.

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