100 DAYS IN: Riggleman looks to reach across the aisle

By Tyler Hammel

Though Rep. Denver Riggleman may be new to public office, he said it was his goal to hit the ground running.

The freshman Republican represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, which stretches from Brunswick County on the Virginia-North Carolina border to Rappahannock County in the Piedmont region, forming a shape Riggleman jokingly describes as a “dragon riding a scooter.”

During his first 100 days in office, the 49-year-old congressman from Nelson County has introduced four bills and co-sponsored dozens more — and has no plans to slow down.

Riggleman’s arrival at Congress came during a particularly tumultuous time, with a government shutdown and the first Democratic majority since 2013.

“I don’t know if I came in during the best time to be in Congress or the worst time to be in Congress; it’s been a bit chaotic,” he said. “I think if it hadn’t started that chaotic, my expectations might not have been set correctly.”

So far, Riggleman’s bills mostly have focused on financial institutions and protections, reflecting his membership on the powerful House Financial Services Committee.

Though the four bills Riggleman has sponsored himself haven’t moved forward much since he introduced them in February, a bipartisan bill he co-sponsored to improve the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network recently passed.

Also known as FinCEN, the bureau is part of the Treasury Department and analyzes information about financial transactions to combat money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial crimes.

HR 1414, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 10th District, amends the duties of FinCEN, requiring it to work with tribal law enforcement agencies to help protect against terrorism and money laundering. The legislation passed the House on March 11 and is currently awaiting the Senate’s consideration.

Already familiar with FinCEN from his work as a military contractor, Riggleman said he was happy to co-sponsor the legislation, which he said would help to combat drug and human trafficking.

Riggleman said he has found there are many in Congress who share his desire to reach across the aisle and work on bipartisan solutions.

“There are moderate, Constitution-loving Democrats who want to get things done, even though when you see people screaming at each other on the news and on social media you may not think so,” he said. “When you look at what’s actually going on in Congress, there are people on both sides who are trying to get things done.”

A major point of contention between the two parties has been funding for a border wall between the United States and Mexico, the inclusion of which in a budget bill led to the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.

Riggleman stood with other Republicans in supporting the budget. As he has pointed out, that budget included $17 billion for combating opioid addiction and $550 million for rural broadband expansion, in addition to funds for the wall.

Riggleman said that, in general, problems faced by constituents have dominated the calls, emails and letters he’s received, and those messages rarely directly relate to the issues gaining national attention.

“We’re finding out the local constituent issues hold much more weight than these overarching issues,” he said. “You think that you know everything about the district after running a campaign, but what I found out is the learning curve is straight up and perpetual — it never ends and you find out that things are much more complex than you could ever imagine.”

However, the “overarching issues” have gained the attention of some constituent groups, such as Indivisible Charlottesville, a left-leaning group dedicated to combating the agenda of President Donald Trump.

David Singerman, co-organizer of Indivisible Charlottesville, said he has been disappointed to see Riggleman stand alongside Trump’s agenda, including funding a border wall.

“Like lots of Republicans who have run for office, he has claimed he would act independently but when it comes to decisions, like funding a border wall that is unnecessary, unethical and inhumane, he’s actually fallen totally in lockstep,” Singerman said.

In that same vein, Singerman also was disappointed with a February email from the congressman that incorrectly stated Riggleman had voted in favor of a joint resolution to block an emergency declaration from Trump intended to allow funding for the border wall.

Though the email was later rescinded, Singerman was among the 25 constituents who received it.

“The explanation he gave was laughable, which tells you how principled Denver Riggleman is, and I don’t think that speaks too highly to his independence,” Singerman said.

Riggleman said at the time that the email was sent out as the result of a “staff error” but he stopped short of confirming that he had at one point intended to vote in favor of the resolution, which passed the House 245 to 182, on Feb. 26.

George Urban, chairman of the Albemarle County Republican Committee, said he has been impressed with Riggleman’s work so far.

“He’s absolutely the same guy I got to know years ago before he ran for office, and I get the sense he’s not beholden to any party vote,” Urban said. “He’s been active and present throughout the really large district, though he can’t be everywhere at once.”

David Shreve, co-chairman of the Albemarle County Democrats, said he wishes Riggleman would be more engaged with his constituents, but has been more impressed with him than with the previous holder of the seat, Republican Tom Garrett.

“I will say that compared to his GOP predecessors, he appears to be more engaged and a little more thoughtful,” Shreve said. “But I’m still disappointed that he’s stood alongside the hypocritical and schizophrenic leadership of his party.”

Riggleman said he has plans to conduct a “listening tour” sometime this spring and hear more directly from his constituents. Until then, he said his district offices are open to anyone who makes an appointment.

“It’s my goal to be the most accessible representative the 5th District has ever had,” he said. “I hope I’m on my way to achieving that.”