Health care, gun control and immigration – and yes, Bigfoot – were in the mix during a spirited forum featuring Republican Denver Riggleman and Democrat Leslie Cockburn Wednesday in Rappahannock County.
The two are in the final stretch of their campaigns for the congressional seat representing Virginia’s 5th District, which includes most of Fauquier County. They are vying to succeed Rep. Tom Garrett, a Republican who withdrew from seeking a second term, citing a problem with alcoholism. The election is Nov. 6.
During the forum, Cockburn called for restoration of the Affordable Care Act. “Trump pulled the legs out of the subsidies” that helped make insurance through the ACA more affordable, she said. She favors a “Medicare for all” option as well as negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of medications.
Cockburn said foreign nations provide universal health insurance at far less cost and that the U.S. should learn from their example.
Riggleman questioned whether Americans want “a single-pay system like the Veterans Administration,” which has been beset by complaints about the medical care provided to veterans.
Riggleman said he supports an expansion of Health Savings Accounts and raising the amount people can deposit in them.
Medicare for all will cost trillions of dollars, Riggleman asserted. He called for an audit of all government spending and then “roll[ing] in” presumed savings into programs serving public need.
Cockburn called for the closing of the “gun show loophole” that allows gun sales without a waiting period for a background check, to ensure that domestic violence perpetrators can’t purchase guns and the elimination of the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines, which she said put police at risk.
Riggleman noted that felons – such as the domestic violence perpetrators Cockburn referred to – are already barred from buying firearms.
Riggleman said he supports the bill blocked by the Senate early this year that would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The bill had exceptions for victims of rape or incest and to protect the mother’s health.
Cockburn said she opposed cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood, which she noted is a source of care for 24 million women beyond reproductive services.
Riggleman maintained that farmers want strong borders. He said they want to make it easier to hire immigrant labor through a program called H2C that would allow foreigners to stay in the U.S. year-round with a 36-month renewable visa. The worker would have to leave the country for a total of 45 days during that time. H2C was in a comprehensive immigration reform bill that failed in the House of Representatives in June.
Cockburn called for comprehensive immigration reform rather than a longer border wall as President Trump wants
“ICE [U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement] is really behaving in a way that we need reform,” she added.
Cockburn was on home ground. She lives in Castleton in Rappahannock County, though Riggleman noted she also has a residence in Washington, D.C., and he referred to two others He mused that much of the mileage she’s put on her car was because of the D.C.-Rappahannock commute rather than traveling the district campaigning, as she said was the case.
Cockburn replied that the D.C. home is used by her husband, Andrew Cockburn, who is Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.
That exchange came after Cockburn called out Riggleman for choosing Pennsylvania as the site for an expansion of his Nelson County distillery.
“The reason that Virginia is not a good place for sales is because they have a 54-percent tax per bottle on everything I sell from my distillery. In Pennsylvania, it’s 3 to 6 percent,” Riggleman said. Production remains in Virginia.
Riggleman said he’s been able to hire more workers thanks to the Trump tax cuts. Gross sales have increased 23 percent since Trump became president, he added.
Riggleman made light of a Cockburn tweet about Riggleman's July Instagram post that showed an illustration of the mythical creature Bigfoot with a black bar over its genitals. Riggleman co-wrote one book about Bigfoot and just wrote a second titled, “Mating Habits of Big Foot and Why Women Want Him.”
Riggleman said the illustration was a joke among military buddies and insisted once again that he isn’t into “Bigfoot erotica.” He did wear Bigfoot-illustrated socks, which he revealed by pulling up his pant legs.
Both candidates drew supporters who filled the 225-seat Little Washington Theater. Others couldn’t get in.
A line formed along Gay Street in anticipation of the doors opening at 6:30 p.m. The two-hour forum was moderated by Rappahannock resident and former Boston Globe reporter Thomas Oliphant, who posed questions then took questions from the audience during the last half hour.
The forum was sponsored by the Rappahannock News and the Businesses of Rappahannock.
Both campaigns quickly claimed victory after the forum ended.
Joe Chelak, Riggleman’s campaign manager, said in a Facebook post: “The distinction here is clear. Denver wants to work in a bipartisan fashion to solve our healthcare system and allow people to choose their healthcare provider. Meanwhile, Leslie wants the government to control it with Medicare for all. Denver wants to solve our immigration crisis by securing the border and encouraging legal immigration. Leslie wants immigration to remain a DNC talking point. Denver wants to lower taxes on hardworking Virginians. And Leslie wants to raise them to pay for a government takeover of healthcare.”
Louise Bruce, Cockburn’s campaign manager, saw it differently. “Leslie was the clear winner of tonight’s debate. Leslie outlined her vision for the 5th district: a substantial platform centered around bettering the lives of Virginians through affordable healthcare, better education and leveling the economic playing field – without taking a single penny from special interests and corporate PACs.”
Reach James Ivancic at firstname.lastname@example.org.