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Cockburn, Riggleman tangle over education issues, healthcare in debate at U.Va.

The two candidates for the Fifth Congressional District disagreed over gun control, healthcare reform

<p>Denver Riggleman and Leslie Cockburn debated in Garrett Hall Friday evening.</p>

Denver Riggleman and Leslie Cockburn debated in Garrett Hall Friday evening.

Fifth Congressional District candidates, Democrat Leslie Cockburn and Republican Denver Riggleman, squared off Friday evening at Garrett Hall for their third debate, sparring over immigration, taxes and support of the Trump administration.

The debate — sponsored by the Center for Effective Lawmaking, University Democrats, College Republicans and the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy — was moderated by Batten Profs. Craig Volden and Gerald Warburg, with questions also coming from audience members and those who submitted questions online in advance. 

Cockburn vowed throughout the debate to stand up against President Donald Trump’s agenda by pushing democratic policies, while Riggleman promised to work with the president and demonstrate a willingness to show bipartisanship when needed. 

Cockburn, a former 60 Minutes producer and investigative journalist, and Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer and craft distillery owner, are both political newcomers vying for the seat currently held by Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) — who announced in May he would not run for reelection for a second term. 

Cockburn said she decided to enter the political arena because of mounting frustration over President Trump. She said some of her goals in the House would be to pass environmental legislation, promote free community college and lower student debt in the district.

“Our country is in crisis,” Cockburn said. “Our government is in crisis. It is not functioning the way it is meant to function.”

Later in the debate, Cockburn referred to the president directly, saying, “we have a crisis of character in the White House.”

In contrast, Riggleman said throughout the debate that he would further conservative values of liberty and freedom by working across the aisle in Washington. 

Riggleman said in his opening statement that his entry in politics can be attributed to his previous battles with government bureaucracy and liquor interest groups as he opened Silverback Distillery outside Charlottesville in 2014. He said some of his goals in the U.S. House of Representatives would be to stop illegal immigration, decriminalize marijuana and make the system work for ordinary citizens and small business owners.

“Somebody has to fight — maybe who have never been involved with politics like myself — have to fight for something that’s sort of greater than what a party is,” Riggleman said. After speaking with many voters in the Fifth District, he concluded that some of their issues can be solved with bipartisan efforts. “Will you do it despite any type of party apparatus — that’s what they tell me and that’s what I’m going to do.”

As for Trump, Riggleman said he would support the president’s policies when they benefit constituents in the district, and oppose them when they don’t. He called out Trump’s tariff policies, saying they benefit some farmers and industrial workers in the Fifth District but hurt others.

“It depends on if the policies align with the constitution and the Fifth District,” Riggleman said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily after the debate. “I don’t follow people — I follow policies in the best interest of this district. I’m an independent thinker anyway — haven’t been in politics long — so it’s pretty easy for me to do what’s right for the Fifth.”

With regards to rising student debt across the country, Cockburn responded by calling for tax-deductible and reduced interest rates on loans, saying that it would help students pay loans back. She added that people willing to work in counties that are underserved — such as teachers, doctors or nurses — should not have to pay back their student loans.

Riggleman said he is “not a big fan of handing out money” because it puts the government further in debt. He opposes linking government intervention to student loans, saying that the government will be losing money similar to the housing crisis. He said he wants to push a policy of “shared risk” by running all loans through the Federal Perkins Loan program, which provided federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need before Congress ended the program in 2017.

The discussion grew more heated as the two candidates got deeper into policy differences, including guns. Cockburn called for greater restrictions, while Riggleman disagreed. 

In particular, Riggleman said bump stocks — which enable shooters to fire multiple rounds at a time before having to reload — should not be banned as a result of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting which killed 58 people, where the gunman used a bump stock. 

“The bump stock did not do that — it was the person with the multiple weapons in the room that actually killed people,” Riggleman said. “I’m not going to change anything with the Second Amendment. My job up here is to actually enforce the constitutional rules that we have in place right now.”

Cockburn said she would support the 2018 assault weapons ban, enforce a ban on bump stocks and attempt to ban weapons in the hands of people who have no training or mental illness.

Riggleman said he would not support Congress enacting the Equal Rights Amendment once the 38th state ratifies it, which could be Virginia in January 2019 when the General Assembly considers the ERA during its legislative session. The ERA is legislative measure originally proposed before Congress during the 1970s which aims to enshrine gender equality into the American Constitution. 

This past May, Illinois was the 37th state to ratify the ERA, meaning only one more state needs to also ratify the amendment for it to meet the Constitutional requirements of a two-thirds majority for approval. 

“I have three daughters and a wife that run all of our business interests right now while I’m running for Congress so when it comes to equal rights, I would actually say that they’re probably a little bit more equal than me,” Riggleman said. “I think the Constitution covers what we need to do — I don’t think we need another amendment.”

Cockburn, in her 60 second rebuttal, vowed to continue fighting for equal pay and equal social security benefits.

“I have spent my entire adult life pushing for equal rights for women in the workplace,” Cockburn said. “We need to protect that and the Equal Rights Amendment is a very, very important part of that.”

Riggleman and Cockburn also disagreed with each other on immigration policies. Riggleman vowed to help the Trump administration secure the border and streamline immigration so that Fifth District farmers hurting for labor can more easily fill jobs using E-Verify — a Department of Homeland Security program that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees.

Cockburn replied by calling Trump’s attacks on immigrants and separationist policies at the border a “crime against humanity” and promised to protect recipients of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which she said has helped grow the economy in the Fifth District.

On the topic of health care, Cockburn said she supported the Affordable Care Act — President Obama’s signature health-care law which includes an expansion of medicaid programs and insurance coverage for millions of Americans. Riggleman said small businesses had been burdened with rising insurance premiums that he blamed on the ACA and the inability of Republicans and Democrats to work together to create a bipartisan health care resolution.

Riggleman said he would rather keep parts of the ACA than repeal it, but does not want the government controlling every aspect of our Medicare. He also dismissed “Medicare-for-all” — a plan to extend the government health insurance program for seniors to all Americans — calling it a “utopian pie in the sky.” Cockburn said she supports Medicare-for-all.

Cockburn and Riggleman will meet again on Oct. 8 at Piedmont Virginia Community College for their fourth debate. Election Day is Nov. 6. 

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