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COLUMN — Riggleman leaves with dignity intact

U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman gave his farewell speech to Congress this past week, saying many of the things we as a nation need to hear more of from our political leaders.

The Nelson County small business owner, and Republican, who sometimes seemed ill at ease with his sudden entrance into the political theater, did not go quietly. Riggleman quoted the first congressman from the 5th District, James Madison, who said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and the people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives a well-instructed people.”

He then spoke of the dangers of disinformation in our society and pledged to continue fighting dangerous conspiracy theory groups like QAnon even after he leaves office.

“Just like creating a vaccine to eradicate COVID-19, we must work together to inoculate against the social contagion of disinformation conspiracies, anti-semitism, dehumanization, racism, deep state cabal nonsense, cults and those grifters posing as servants of the people,” he said.

Riggleman has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s ineffectual legal fight to challenge results of the presidential election and was one of the first Republicans in Congress to accept Joe Biden as president-elect, a move he said caused some of those closest to him to call him a traitor.

The one-term congressman addressed the election disinformation campaign as part of his farewell speech.

“As we transition to a new administration, I implore all to consider the sources of information you receive, to fact check diligently and to recognize that many bad actors who spread spurious and fantastical conspiracy theories under banners like QAnon, Kraken, Stop The Steal, Scamdemic and many other emotive terms and coded language are not disseminating information rooted in knowledge, but with questionable motives and greed,” Riggleman said. “They are rooted in misunderstanding, or fraud, or in some cases ignorance.”

Contrast Riggleman’s words to those of incoming 5th District Congressman-Elect Bob Good who spoke at a pro-Trump “Stop The Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Dec. 12, where he praised rally goers for not wearing masks and called the coronavirus outbreak a “phony pandemic.”

“I can’t tell you how great it is to look out there and see your faces,” Good said with the nation on the verge of 300,000 deaths from the virus. “This looks like a group of people that get that this is a phony pandemic.”

Riggleman’s farewell speech comes after losing a vote of 3,500 party loyalists in a District Republican convention last June. Many party leaders were disappointed in Riggleman’s decision to officiate a same-sex wedding in July 2019 for two people who worked on his 2018 campaign. The convention format, chosen over the more traditional open primary by the party leadership, prevented Riggleman from attracting more moderate voters. Despite the backlash from party loyalists, Riggleman has never expressed regret for the decision to officiate the union.

Riggleman is leaving Washington at a time when we need more people like him, certainly not fewer. Someone who has charted their own path and not been afraid to call out leaders of the party when they feel it is necessary is currently a rarity on Capitol Hill.

Although this is farewell to Congress for Riggleman, it seems improbable Riggleman will go back to the Silverback Distillery and be content making Blackback Rye Whiskey the rest of his days. It seems he still has a lot to offer. But his future is cloudy given the fact his recent condemnation of Trump Republicans has likely left him without a great deal of support in the Republican Party.

At the very least, Riggleman, unlike many other one-term politicians, can drive away from Washington, D.C., with his head held high and his dignity intact.

ROGER WATSON is editor of The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. His email address is Roger.Watson@FarmvilleHerald.com.