Congressman Denver Riggleman visits Taylor Middle School

By Karen Chaffraix Times Staff Writer

“Their parents voted for him, so we invited him to help the kids understand what a congressional representative does,” said Taylor Middle School teacher Brian Lowery. Gathered in the auditorium were nearly 170 seventh-grade students — all eight civics classes taught by Lowery and colleague Matt Walker.

First-term congressman Rep. Denver Riggleman, (R-5th District), spent 45 minutes addressing the group. He told them what a normal day in the legislature is like. “It’s meeting after meeting, all day long. I have about 42 meetings a day; that’s typical,” Riggleman said. “And when I hear a loud beep beep beep, I have to stop everything and take the underground train over to vote. You all know about those underground trains?”

His staff goes with him, he said, texting what they know about the bills he is voting on. “There’s been about 2,000 bills submitted in the first three months that I have to try and know about. I have 22 people that work for me, on every single topic.”

Riggleman spoke fast and he was funny, so restlessness among the 12-year-olds remained at a minimum. “And guess what is waiting on my desk at the end of the day?”

“Food,” came a shout.

“Cake!” said someone else.

“More work,” Riggleman answered. “I have 730,000 people I’m responsible for. Our district is bigger than the state of New Jersey, did you guys know that? It’s bigger than the country of Israel. It goes down to the border of North Carolina. You guys ever been to North Carolina?”

He told them about marrying at 19 and going into the U.S. Air Force. “In 1996, they sent me to UVA where I got my degree, and they taught me how to fly. In 1999, I got to fly a B-1 bomber. I was a B-1 intelligence officer.” He became an officer and went overseas, he told them. “I got to go to Israel and Oman and Germany and Romania. Because I studied very hard, I got to do some really cool things.”

After the Air Force, Riggleman worked for the National Security Agency, he said, where he got to “talk to terrorists; finding all these bad guys and trying to get to ’em.” He later built several businesses, the most recent being a distillery, which his wife and daughters run, he said. “I never expected to become a politician. I was asked to run. And I decided to do it so I could fight the bullies.”

‘I work for all of you.’

“If you ever want to come up with your parents, I can take you to some secret rooms in the Capitol; I can take you to the White House. Why would I do that? Because I work for you,” Riggleman said.

Lowery said local politicians are invited every year to come speak to students. Earlier this year, chairman of Fauquier’s board of supervisors, Chris Butler, spoke, as did Jerry Wood and Renard Carlos from the Warrenton Town Council. Mark Warner has been invited. “We want them to understand that those people are able to represent them, regardless of party affiliation,” Lowery added.

At question time, students asked about the nuclear arms deal with Iran, about border security and about “the increasing interest in socialism.”

Riggleman responded: “Listen, kids, you have to decide whether you want to make your own decisions when you grow up, or you want someone else to make decisions for you. Do you want freedom, or do you want to be told what to do?”

“I was very impressed by the high-level thinking they showed,” Lowery said as the students noisily filed out of the auditorium.