We asked each of the candidates for the VA-05 U.S. House of Representatives seat to answer a set of questions pertaining to our district in advance of the election Tuesday, November 6.. The candidates are former U.S. Air Force officer and Nelson County businessman Denver Riggleman (R) and former journalist and television producer Leslie Cockburn (D), who lives in Rappahannock County. Below are their unedited responses.
What do you think should be the government’s role in and priorities regarding public education in our district over the next ten years? How would your proposals be financed?
Riggleman: I am a big supporter of public education. I was educated in public schools here in Virginia and went to community college before earning a diploma from the University of Virginia on an ROTC scholarship.
The government’s priority should be to provide the best quality education possible to every student. Teachers know more than government bureaucrats about how to help students. We should empower local teachers and school boards to make decisions that will benefit the students in their classes, not rely on mandates from the federal government.
Cockburn: Our government must make increased funding for our schools a top priority. We need to keep the money that belongs in public schools in public schools, not diverted elsewhere. We also need to reorganize our entire approach to public education. The 5th [District] needs universal pre-K to combat the racial and financial disparities that arise among our students.
It’s time for free community college in the 5th. We need to provide more opportunities to those students who haven’t quite found their path in high school. In community college, they can take classes on entrepreneurship and vocational programs. Free community college will also help combat the massive student debt crisis that we’re facing in this country. We have generations of students suffering from insurmountable debt; it’s our obligation to offer them the lowest interest rates available, and make these loans dischargeable in bankruptcy.
These proposals will be financed by closing tax loopholes for the top 1%, ending the 83% of tax cuts for top earners and corporations from the GOP tax plan, and reevaluating American budget priorities. The $82 billion increase in this year’s defense budget (far more than the entire defense budget of Russia) would pay for a great deal of free education. The tuition of PVCC is just over 4,000 dollars. Take just half of the defense budget increase and see how many students could attend for free. It’s about 10 million students.
Jobs & Economy
What is your view of the best way to bring jobs and economic growth to the 5th district, including House Democrats’ plan to increase the minimum wage?
Riggleman: I know how to create jobs in the 5th District because I have done it. Entrepreneurs and companies create jobs, not the government. My wife and I own Silverback Distillery in Afton. The biggest obstacles to building and perpetuating our business are government red tape, overreaching regulations, weaponized compliance and onerous taxes. We must identify and eliminate unnecessary regulations to allow small businesses here in the 5th District to grow.
The recent tax cut has helped us and countless others grow businesses and hire more employees. In the southern half of the district there has also been some success with “opportunity zones” to encourage more investment and bring back jobs to Southside Virginia. A federal minimum wage increase, especially across the board regardless of state or region, does not increase employment or opportunity and will hurt those looking for entry-level employment.
Cockburn: Healthcare jobs make up a substantial number of job opportunities in the 5th and it’s growing. Medicaid expansion has been a huge jobs producer for Virginia, and so will Medicare once we put it on the healthcare exchange so that anyone may enroll.
Right now, in Pittsylvania, Danville, and Halifax, there are over 2,500 jobs open. That’s everything from highly skilled jobs to McDonald’s. One of the major reasons why those jobs are not filled is that people cannot pass a drug test. When we think about employment we must think about treatment. They go hand in hand.
Renewable energy will also be a huge driver of jobs in this district. The skills required to install and maintain solar and geothermal energy are already present in every county. If you can dig a well, repair a metal roof, mend a board fence and bushhog a field, you can easily learn to work with solar panels and geothermal pipes, and training is already available in our district. Solar jobs are exploding across the country and there are already 199 companies in Virginia.
Finally, employers in the 5th must pay a living wage. Too many people are working 2 or 3 jobs to get by. The minimum wage in Virginia is $7.25, $1.50 less than West Virginia. Let’s start with matching Walmart at $11, and fight for $15.
What changes would you support making to the Affordable Care Act as part of a plan to address the costs of and access to healthcare for 5th district citizens, and how would your proposals be funded?
Riggleman: The healthcare issue is one that is especially pertinent to the Charlottesville area and one that has been an issue nationally for some time. Democrats tried to fix it but couldn’t. Republicans had a chance to fix it, but they couldn’t either. I don’t think we need another Obamacare or a Trumpcare, but a bipartisan-care. I am open to compromise on this issue because we need to compromise to make it work. We should protect the most vulnerable among us and provide a social safety net in the medical sphere. But we should also let the free market have a hand in creating increased access at an affordable rate. Recently we saw Anthem return to Charlottesville as a response to Optima’s increased rates. This is an example of the free market helping in the healthcare system.
I cannot offer too many specifics for a compromise that I haven’t seen yet, but I think we can work out a system that offers a safety net that includes covering people with pre-existing conditions while not moving towards a single-payer healthcare system that increases costs and bankrupts the government. We need a responsible solution here.
Cockburn: First, we need to preserve the best of the Affordable Care Act to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are guaranteed they will not be denied coverage. My opponent has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act. His patrons on Capitol Hill, the Freedom Caucus, have insisted that any Republican-approved plan guts the promise of coverage for preexisting conditions. The Freedom Caucus has contributed $72,000 to the Riggleman Campaign.
The Republicans on the House Budget Committee have proposed cutting Medicaid by $1.5 trillion, and Medicare by $500 billion. This would be disastrous. I will add my name to the Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act, to ensure that every American has access to affordable care. Right now, we pay $3.4 trillion per year for our healthcare. We pay more than twice per person than any other advanced country, all of which have universal healthcare. In eight years, according to U.S. government figures, we’ll be paying nearly $6 trillion per year. This is not sustainable.
I will fight to reduce the exorbitant cost of drugs charged by Big Pharma. If we paid the same prices as the Europeans do, we would save $2.5 trillion over 10 years. We must stop fraud and waste in the medical industry, where a few hundred-dollar hip replacement can cost ten thousand or more in hospital bills. A CT scan costs nine times more in the U.S. than in Canada. Drug companies must be challenged in courts and in Congress on their pricing, and insurance companies must be forced to stop making opioid prescriptions cheaper than non-addictive painkillers.
Do you support or oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, taking into account its potential impact on jobs, energy costs, property rights, and the environment for Virginia’s 5th District residents?
Riggleman: As someone who studies critical infrastructure for the Department of Defense, I am a supporter of independent energy production. However, the threshold to condemn private property for eminent domain must be incredibly high. Private property is one of our most cherished rights. I do not believe that the ACP met the public use standard for condemnation of private property.
I find it odd that there was no study done on the ACP’s impact to current and future agribusiness ventures along the pipeline route. ACP jobs will be temporary, and I am not convinced that this pipeline is needed at this time or that the impact on current and future jobs will be minimal. For the reasons stated, I am opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. There can and must be a way to construct critical infrastructure and protect one of our most cherished rights. I firmly believe that established easements and proactive private-public communication could mitigate many of the issues.
Cockburn: I strongly oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This pipeline will be dangerous and pollute our rural and less affluent communities. Right now, a giant compressor station is planned for Union Hill, an historic African American Freedmen community in Buckingham County. The compressor station will spew toxic and cancer-causing chemicals, vent methane (at least 25 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas), and sound like a diesel locomotive seven days a week. While venting, the sound is more like a jet landing at Dulles. This is an environmental justice issue and the NAACP has weighed in against this terrible proposal.
The Southern Environmental Law Center concludes that the pipeline is completely unnecessary for Virginia’s energy needs and offers mostly temporary jobs. The project tramples on the property rights of local farmers, businesses, and residents. The main advocate for this project is Dominion Power seeking to improve their bottom line. Virginia does not need the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.