What you need to know about Virginia's 5th District House race

Leslie Cockburn, Denver Riggleman are on ballot

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter, Jeff Williamson - Digital Content Manager

As in all midterm elections, nationwide, elections will be held for all districts that make up the House of Representatives.

One of those 435 elections is for Virginia's 5th District. This district contains all of Albemarle, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Franklin, Greene, Halifax, Lunenburg, Madison, Mecklenburg, Nelson, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward and Rappahannock counties. Parts of Bedford, Fauquier and Henry counties are also included in the district, as well as the cities of Charlottesville and Danville.

Currently, that seat is held by Tom Garrett; however, due to his alcoholism, Garrett announced in May that he would not seek a second term.

That opened the race on both sides of the political spectrum.

On the ballot will be Democrat Leslie Cockburn against Republican Denver Riggleman.

Cockburn -- who pronounces her name “co-burn” -- is a newcomer to the political stage. She lives in Rappahannock, a rural northern Virginia town, and said she understands problems in rural areas, like many parts of Southside.

She’s an author and a former producer of the CBS show "60 Minutes." She’s been in the race for more than a year and said her background as a journalist prepares her for asking people questions to find out what their problems are and what the solutions might be. She said on Capitol Hill her door will be open, so anyone can talk to her about what issues they think she should address.

She says the 5th District has been badly represented.

“If they're not happy with what's going on in Washington, and they want good representation for the people of the 5th District, then they should vote for me,” she said.

Her campaign is not taking corporate PAC money because she feels it's important to not be in the pocket of corporations.

Riggleman describes himself as a businessman and a “liberty Republican.” He’s a former Air Force intelligence officer, and he opened Silverback Distillery with his wife in Nelson County in 2014.

He said he will fight against regulations and taxes if elected. He lists his experience in the areas of business, the military, foreign policy, and infrastructure.

He wants to make sure the government stays out of people's pockets.

“Government can't make a better decision for you than you can make decisions for yourself,” he said.

He breaks from the Republican party in some ways. He supports the decriminalization of marijuana and believes it could be legalized in American in the future, and he supports same-sex marriage.

His campaign is taking money from PACs but said he will not be swayed by special interest groups.

Candidates' stance on various issues:


Both Riggleman and Cockburn believe that immigrants who come to America legally should be treated fairly.

Riggleman has a tougher stance on border security and believes America needs to strengthen its southern border, whether it's with a wall, technology or main power. He supports a wall in “appropriate areas.” 

Differing from many Republicans, he supports fast-tracking legal immigration by streamlining immigration laws.

“We're a land of immigrants so if we have a secure border I don't see any reason why we can't look at new immigration laws especially for labor and for our economy,” he said.

He said he wants to support people who've earned the right to be in the country and add them to the taxpayer base.

Cockburn believes immigration is an economic issue for the 5th District because of how many immigrants live and work there.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform. We need to make sure that they are welcome in the 5th District and that they continue to be part of our economy, and don't forget that these people are paying into social security,” she said.

Cockburn said she wants to fight the cruel treatment of immigrant families.

Both candidates believe the immigration system needs changes. 

Health Care
Riggleman and Cockburn disagree on many aspects of the health care conversation and mostly align with the views of their respective parties.

Riggleman sets himself apart in the government assistance debate by asking for a focus on cutting waste and abuse and taking a tougher stance on fraud. He believes there probably won't be cuts to Medicare or Medicaid, but he said that looking at these areas can limit how costly they are to the country.

“I think we can come to a combined free market system with basic protections because American has already decided that there's going to be a social safety net for those less fortunate,” he said.

He likes aspects of the Affordable Care Act, like covering pre-existing conditions and allowing people to stay on their parents' plan until they’re 26 years old.

“I don't think there needs to be an Obamacare or Trumpcare. I think there needs to be a bipartisan care,” he said.

Cockburn wants to restore the Affordable Care Act. She would like every American to be guaranteed health care. She supports many of the current proposals to have everyone on Medicare.

“We have health deserts here. We have counties where you can't get to good health care,” she said. “We need to fix our health care system and I would be joining a lot of other people who are really taking the lead on doing that.”

Opioid Addiction

Both candidates said they have ideas to fight against the opioid epidemic in America.

Cockburn favors long-term treatment centers getting the billions of dollars the federal government is putting into fighting against the epidemic as opposed to short-term centers, and she wants to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable.

“They are responsible for making it very, very easy to get addictive opioids. There are other painkillers that are more expensive but less addictive. That should be reversed,” she said.

Riggleman said he’s glad that in many ways fighting the issue seems to have support from both parties. He said cracking down on border security can help with keeping drugs out of the country and the effect pharmaceutical companies are having on the epidemic may be unintended, but at some point America needs to look at how it can slow down the number of prescriptions issued.


Cockburn said it’s important to her that local schools receive more funding. She suggested that one way to put more money into education at the federal level is to take some funding away from the defense budget.

She believes many students don't have enough to eat, there aren't enough resources put into counseling, and leaders can work harder to prevent students from falling through the cracks in the system.

Riggleman is a school choice advocate and believes parents of homeschoolers should be able benefit from a deduction on their taxes. He believes America should decentralize education and allow localities to have the most control over spending.

He doesn't believe testing should be a factor in funding.

In response to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Corey Stewart’s comments, when he called Danville an unpleasant city overrun by numerous problems, both candidates generally disagree with Stewart and believe the city’s future is looking brighter than its past.

Riggleman does agree with Stewart to some extent. He believes there are still problems in the city, particularly with opioid addiction and income levels, but he agrees with local leaders that Danville is growing and is working on solving the problems it faces.

“When you see that we have this upward track or trajectory you're finally seeing some hope in the economy, even in Southside,” he said.

Cockburn opposes Stewart’s description. She said she's spoken with local leaders in Danville and agrees with them that conditions are getting better.

“Homicide rates are going down. Neighborhood situations are improving. The police are starting community policing. We have a little renaissance going on down there in the River District so long as you continue supporting it,” she said.

Gun violence
On the debate over how to curb gun violence in America, Cockburn said she grew up as a hunter and many people she grew up with in Rappahannock County care a lot about guns.

She opposes so-called loopholes, like purchases at guns shows and people found guilty of domestic violence owning a gun, among others.

“If you fix those loopholes you would get rid of 50 percent of these massacres in this country. That's really very, very significant,” she said.

She does not support bump stocks and said there needs to be more of a focus on gun safety, saying she sees a role for the NRA to train people in safety courses.

Riggleman is in favor of America focusing on mental health issues related to gun violence.

“I'm a strong 2nd Amendment supporter,” he said.

He said as a veteran he's troubled by the high number of instances of guns used in suicides.

The Economy

Both candidates support a boost to workforce training to help fill labor shortages but they disagree on the Trump administration’s decision to increase tariffs on some goods.

Riggleman said in Franklin and Bedford counties, he believes there needs to be a focus on fixing the labor shortages in farming and manufacturing by training more workers. 

“We have a super-heated economy right now and we definitely have labor shortages throughout the 5th so the first thing we have to do is (figure out) how do we fill those labor shortages?” he said.

He also wants to help address infrastructure issues like roads and broadband access.

Cockburn said in Pittsylvania and Halifax counties, as well as the city of Danville, there are a total of 2,500 open jobs. She believes one reason they're not filled is because many people are not passing a drug test. She believes more drug treatment programs in the district can help people find jobs.

She believes the most promising opportunity for growth in the district is renewable energy, saying there are opportunities specifically for solar power, which could add many jobs in the area.

Riggleman favors deregulation to help out farmers and businesses. He believes America’s tariffs on China are warranted because of unfair trade practices.

“The farmers and manufacturers in the 5th District understand that they need as free trade as they can, but there needs to be fair trade. What you see from them is they know that there needs to be some short-term pain some long-term gain,” he said. “I'll fight for the 5th if I think it's gone too far.”

He does not support an increase to the minimum wage. He believes it will lead to fewer jobs.

Cockburn believes in raising the minimum wage. On the issue of tariffs, specifically in Campbell and Pittsylvania counties, she sees farms the tariffs have negatively affected.

“I have a soybean farmer who's a lifelong Republican who's switching sides to vote for me because of the effect of the tariffs on soybean farmers,” she said.


Riggleman has been a staunch opponent of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline because of his views on property rights and because he said, under its current plan, it's not for the public good.

“It was handled poorly by Dominion,” he said.

For more than four years, he fought plans for the pipeline to cross his land in Nelson County. He felt that lobbying inside the state legislature was a key reason why the project moved forward. 

However, he supports infrastructure projects and believes there is a way to make the pipeline project work without taking people's land against their will.

“I think we can work out a deal,” he said.

Both candidates believe there needs to be a change to the federal approval process for pipelines.

Cockburn opposes projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

“I think the approval process was very shoddy. Things were rammed through very quickly,” she said. “It will not keep the lights on in Virginia.”

She's worried about explosions and water quality and pointed to Four Corners Farm in Franklin County as an example of the effects the project can have on landowners.

Riggleman's Controversy

Bigfoot has been a topic of conversation in the 5th District race. Yes, that’s not a typo.

Riggleman wrote a self-published book on the myth and has posted about Bigfoot on social media.

Cockburn criticizes the moves.

“This is not his private life. This is social media,” she said.

There’s a picture that’s gotten some attention showing a naked drawing of Bigfoot with a black box between his legs, which seems to function as a censor.

He said the social media post -- and the whole topic -- is a joke.

Riggleman said the subject is an ongoing joke with his military friends. He found the views of believers interesting and said the book looks at them from an anthropological perspective.

He said he’s not interested in so-called “Bigfoot erotica” and doesn't believe in the mythical creature.

Cockburn's Controversy

Some members of the Republican party have claimed that a book written more than 25 years ago shows that Cockburn has anti-Semitic views.

Cockburn said her book covers policy involving Israel and does not reflect any hatred or bigotry of the Jewish people.

“This is a very serious book,” she said. “This has nothing to do with what people think of as anti-Semitism, the horrible outbreak of anti-Semitism in this district, which you saw in Charlottesville.”

Riggleman said he read the book and does not believe it reflects anti-Semitic views.

Cockburn said that pro-Israel groups approve of her book while Riggleman said pro-Israel groups are not happy with her work.

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