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GOP candidate for governor brings campaign to Chase City

South Boston News
Republican candidate for governor Denver Riggleman talks issues with Deborah DeSantis, Annette Darden, and Angela Dickenson of Chase City at a fund raiser hosted by Robert Bondurant. / March 08, 2017

Denver Riggleman says he’s mad as heck and he’s not going to take it anymore.

Which is why the former Air Force intelligence officer and Nelson County distillery owner claims he’s running for governor.

Riggleman, who owns Silverback Distillery in Afton with his wife Christine, said government overreach and over-regulation are what pushed him to run for governor. He was in Chase City Friday night for a fundraiser and petition-signing party hosted by friend and fellow distillery owner, Robert Bondurant.

“My $700,000 [distillery] project turned into $1.8 million because of regulatory issues and the things we had to deal with. Pretty much extorting us for money to allow us to do anything,” said Riggleman.

One of four candidates running for the Republican nomination, Riggleman touts his background as a veteran, business owner and native-born Virginian as qualifications for becoming governor. Other GOP hopefuls in the race are party strategist and former George W. Bush political advisor Ed Gillespie, Prince William County supervisor Corey Stewart and Virginia Beach state Sen. Frank Wagner.

Riggleman told a modest-sized audience in Chase City that “I am not a politician, but I am confrontational. There’s nothing quite like a pissed off vet. And somebody’s who’s dropped a couple of bombs on caves in Tora Bora [Afghanistan] on some Taliban who wanted to dig in, is not afraid of a bunch of politicians who want to get up in my face and say certain things that are not allowed, as far as I am concerned.”

“It all started with our distillery,” Riggleman said, describing what drove him to hit the campaign trail. “The first thing was eminent domain. We had Dominion [Power] try to come through and condemn our property, put a 42-inch pipeline that was 4,000 feet long and 150 feet wide that would have taken out our forests and trees, and give us about 20-30 percent of what it was worth based on the government taking the property.

“Then because I had a ditch behind my distillery, that brought in DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] and stormwater management. At the same time, I was fighting the beer lobby that was trying to control distilleries and how much we could sell. So, I was fighting a three-front war against taxes and regulation I thought were completely wrong for small business. That’s really what sparked me wanting to run for governor, was the fight against cronyism and to look for transparency in government.”

The battles to get Silverback Distillery up and running left his wife in tears, said Riggleman. When a lobbyist for a rival industry told him “he was going to kick [his] a**,” he decided it was time to “rise up and do something different.”

In running for governor, Riggleman vowed to shake things up and eschew the state Republican Party apparatus. He also said he is refusing to accept contributions from lobbyists. He said he’s unconcerned over the likelihood that he will receive few or no major endorsements, and will raise less money than the other candidates.

He vowed to attack what he calls a bloated bureaucracy that he said is more intent on fostering regulation than economic development.

“If elected, my first act will be to audit every state agency. I plan to rip them apart. It’s not reform, it’s dismantle,” Riggleman said.

Riggleman said he believes Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race signaled that the voters want real people, not politicians, in office. Riggleman said he is running as an “honest, transparent person, who is not beholden to lobbyists, industries or other politicians.

“I’ve never run for office before, but I was a very successful Air Force intelligence officer. I started my own company, I was counter-ID, I went after roadside bomb makers, I did anti-hostage operations in South America, I started my own department of defense company and sold it five years later with a 30 times return on my investment of $92,000. Then after that I was CEO of a subsidiary, but my wife wanted to build a distillery. It is hers, she is the master distiller. She is the CEO of Silverback and one of the most important people I have ever met in my entire life.” He is also a father of three girls, Lauren, Abigail and Lillian.

In addition to his non-politician pedigree, Riggleman distinguishes himself by pointing that that he is the only Republican candidate in the governor’s race who was born in Virginia — he’s from Manassas. “I’m the only native son, the only one from west of I-95 that’s running, the only one from rural counties.”

He, wife Christine and their three girls currently live in Nelson County.

One of his favorite topics on the campaign trail is the taxation and regulation of distilled beverages, which he says is burdensome compared to beer and wine. Distillers pay $21 in excise tax by the gallon, brewers pay $2.10 and vintners about $4.80, according to Riggleman. He wants the tax to be essentially equal for everyone.

He also keeps abreast of current legislation. Riggleman said he was opposed to the bill introduced in this session of the General Assembly that would have set fines for hunters whose dogs stray onto other people’s properties, but he supports 5th District Congressman Tom Garrett’s bill to decriminalize marijuana. He said he would also support legislation to allow the production of industrial hemp throughout Virginia.

“Why aren’t we passing industrial hemp laws? Why aren’t we decriminalizing marijuana? We have some of the best farmland in the world. Why aren’t we helping farmers find new ways to use it? Now is the time to bring back agriculture, which will bring back all the service activities that are related with a robust economy.”

In addition to the Republican race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello are seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Both parties will choose their nominees in June 13 primaries.

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