Emily Duke Hargan
Congressman Denver Riggleman: Whiskey is Freedom Profile
Today I officially launched the Bourbon and Politics website and blog with my first Whiskey is Freedom profile of Congressman Denver Riggleman. Thanks to everyone for reading and for your continued support.
The sun was setting as I drove into Charlottesville the night before my interview with Congressman Denver Riggleman. For me, there is always a heightened anticipation driving down Route 29. I attended the University of Virginia in the mid-90’s, and those were my glorious college years, so every trip back to Charlottesville is filled with memories. But on this particular evening, I was nervous and not paying attention to the town as it passed by my car windows. My mind was hyper-focused on the interview I was doing the next day — my first Whiskey is Freedom profile.
I wasn’t nervous because I was about to sit down with a Congressman. It was because of this blog. This blog that was initially just a way to keep friends and family updated about current events in Washington, DC, but had taken on a new life. I had finally discovered my voice, and, given today’s increasingly polarized political climate, I was hopeful that my outlook and opinion would offer a fresh perspective on the Capitol. I was talking about politics from my perspective — as a conservative but also as someone who cares passionately about civil liberties.
I’ve spent my entire professional career working in and around politics. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Presidents, Ambassadors, Governors, Members of Congress and other political influencers but I’ve never met anyone like Congressman Denver Riggleman. And I knew within five minutes that he was the perfect choice for my first profile. Not only was he enthusiastic about speaking with me about our shared political ideology but he was also a whiskey distiller. He is not your average politician, this is a man who hunted terrorists and makes whiskey, I knew this was going to be a great conversation. Below is the profile.
Denver Riggleman: “I’d rather fish on my own river and drink my own bourbon.”
By way of background, Congressman Denver Riggleman is serving in his first term in the House of Representatives and represents the 5th district of Virginia — the largest district in the state. Since taking office, he has sponsored 13 bills and co-sponsored a jaw-dropping 267. He sits on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, is the founding member of the House Veterans Education Caucus and is a valued member of the House Leadership Whip team. All of these make an accomplished Congressional resume, but what makes this Congressman stand out is his unique and refreshing brand of politics — he’s not willing to follow the old way of doing things.
Riggleman has had to struggle at every level. He’s the oldest of 8 kids. He married early, had three children, and went to college on an Air Force scholarship. After 9/11, he deployed to Afghanistan and tracked terrorists. Later he founded his own counter-intelligence firm and developed a whisky business, Silverback Distillery, which his wife and daughters now run. So why did he get involved in politics? Plain and simple — he hates bullies.
In his opinion, regulations and government overreach often destroy peoples’ lives. He applies the life lessons he’s learned in the military and in business to getting things done in his district, and as a representative, Riggleman gets out often in the district to talk to his constituents and listens to their concerns. He emphasizes facts, rather than concepts. He is a businessman who wants solutions leading the people in his district to do well.
“Too often,” he told me, “politicians just paint broad strokes and don’t want to get in the weeds. But people want to get in the weeds. And I am going to be transparent.”
And he has delivered for his district. In just 18 months in office, he has secured $27 million in rural broadband funding to five counties and to increase internet connectivity. He has been a Republican leader in the fight against the opioid epidemic which has crippled parts of rural Virginia. More importantly, he has secured federal crop insurance for local farmers who grow industrial hemp which is a huge sector of the economy.
As a freshman Member of Congress, Riggleman has managed to get all of these things done for his constituents during one of the most unprecedented terms—longest government shutdown, the Mueller report, Solemani captured and killed (who he tracked when he was in the military), the Impeachment, the FISA-IG report and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, there are those in Virginia Republican circles who think Riggleman isn’t serious enough about conservative politics. This accusation alludes to Riggleman’s officiating at the wedding of two former campaign volunteers, who are gay. I mentioned this to him and his response was that he believes that individual liberty should be valued above all else. He wants people to be allowed to live the way they want to live as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.
“Republicans should be protecting civil liberties.” He further emphasized, “We’re the party who fought for emancipation and we were also built on the Enlightenment and Renaissance principles.”
On June 13th, Republican delegates from 5th District will gather in Lynchburg for a drive-in convention to cast their vote for their candidate for Congress. As I mentioned, Riggleman is facing criticism from within his own party for some of his independent views but he’s not backing down. He is who he is and he’s not changing and this wins him praise from his colleagues on the Hill as someone who is willing to work across the aisle to get things done.
He has no interest in kissing rings either. “I’d rather fish on my own river and drink my own bourbon,” he told me. “There are not a lot of people like me in Congress, “ he continued, “if you’re looking at politics as a ticket to be famous, you need to get the hell out of Congress.”
But this first-term Congressman from Virginia says he has no plans to quit the 5th district. He’s running for re-election, and he hopes to return for another term. In fact, he thinks that it is time for a revolution, led by independent thinkers not political hacks.
“I don’t have to win in my heart, I didn’t come to DC to be Facebook famous.” he said as our conversation came to a close, “if you value service over self in any way, you’ve got to be willing to lose.”
For the sake of the constituents in the 5th district of Virginia, I hope he doesn’t.
Read the profile here on the Bourbon and Politics on the website.