Amid complaints from local residents that he hasn’t made himself available to constituents, Congressman Denver Riggleman has scheduled his first in-person town hall meeting for August 28—in Danville.
The Republican representative of Virginia’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives took office in January, when he published a pledge that said he would “conduct town halls throughout the district” once he was settled in. Seven months into his term, Riggleman has only held one town hall, by phone, but says he’s met with constituents in other ways.
“I don’t know if you want to call them town halls, but we certainly have been doing listening tours with every type of constituency we have, so I think the town halls, listening tours, roundtables, all those are pretty much the same thing,” Riggleman says. He says he plans to hold a town hall in Charlottesville “in the next four to five months.”
Craig DuBose is a Charlottesville resident who grew disgruntled with Riggleman’s lack of town hall meetings. The carpenter, who similarly pursued Riggleman’s predecessor, Tom Garrett, decided to organize a “constituent day” with other voters on August 26 at Riggleman’s office.
The event was promoted by Indivisible Charlottesville—an anti-Trump group that advocates for holding public officials accountable—with the idea that residents could visit Riggleman’s local office to voice their concerns about what’s going on in the district. The congressman says he wasn’t aware of the constituent day prior to it happening.
“How many times do we have to show and ask you to respond to this before you either respond to it or tell us you’re not going to?” DuBose says. He started making regular visits to the office in July with a group of fellow residents to try and speak with Riggleman, with no success.
Fourteen people marked on Facebook that they stopped by the office Monday, and 37 said they were interested. A Riggleman staffer confirmed multiple people had visited that morning but wouldn’t disclose a number.
As it turns out, the congressman was in fact in Charlottesville on Monday, meeting with local farmers and lawmakers at Roslyn Farm. He also attended a roundtable at the crop processing company Nutrien Ag Solutions in South Hill. Richard Fox, the owner of Roslyn Farm, says local farmers feel like their voices are heard by Riggleman, who co-owns a distillery with his wife Christine in Afton.
“Over the last couple years, building those relationships with local farmers has definitely helped him just hit the ground running,” Fox says. “At the end of the day, you can talk with Denver and he actually knows what you’re saying. He can talk some farm stuff and he gets it just because he’s at least had to be on the other end of the commodity industry.”
In his weekly newsletter sent to subscribers July 26, Riggleman wrote that he was “excited to visit with constituents” during Congress’ yearly August recess. He spent a majority of the first two weeks of the month visiting facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border and taking a congressional delegation trip to Israel before making a business tour across the district.
“It’s just not true, I mean that’s ridiculous,” Riggleman says of those claiming their voices aren’t being heard. “Instead of screaming all the time, just maybe look at what I’m doing…I think most of the people complaining are just specifically in Charlottesville with a certain group of people, and that’s fine. But don’t be disingenuous. That’s just absurd.”
Paul Bostrom is a Charlottesville resident who visited Riggleman’s office as part of the constituent day. He hoped to ask Riggleman about his stance on some of President Trump’s recent comments. Although he can’t attend Riggleman’s town hall in Danville on Wednesday, because it’s two hours away, Bostrom wants to hear from Riggleman directly about Trump and some of the issues pertinent to the district.
“I want to hear more from his mouth about what’s going on in the district and what’s going on in Congress,” he says.
With no firm date set for a town hall in Charlottesville, Riggleman invites city residents to follow him on social media and subscribe to his newsletter in order to stay informed on what he’s doing in Congress. DuBose, who is an active commenter on Riggleman’s Facebook page, claims some of his comments have disappeared from the congressman’s official Facebook page, an allegation Riggleman denies. He stresses that constituents can schedule meetings with him at his local offices, but that representing such a large district pulls him in many different directions.
“I think what people need to understand is we have a district that’s 10,000 square miles, 21 counties, and Charlottesville specifically is 1/1,000th of the district geographically,” Riggleman says. “So it’s great that they’re planning a constituent day, but I’m meeting with constituents in multiple counties every month. It’s a challenge with a district bigger than New Jersey [and] hopefully people understand that.”