AFTON — Nelson County distiller and career security contractor Denver Riggleman said the only reason he wouldn’t run for governor in 2017 is to take a job consulting on national security.
While his exploratory committee makes plans to enter the 2017 Republican gubernatorial nomination contest, he’s mulling an offer to consult with the Department of Defense in the cyber warfare effort, the owner of Silverback Distillery said Thursday.
The governorship is a one-time, four-year commitment with consecutive terms prohibited in Virginia. The defense job is a two- to four-year commitment as a government consultant, which would follow up on a 14-year career as a contractor in the field, he said.
Both are opportunities to serve, he said.
“If you have that call to duty, you have to decide which one at that time, you know, is best for the people that you’re serving, but also best for your family and really best for your health,” Riggleman said Thursday at Silverback.
The defense consultancy would be a “significant paycheck” that would help him and his wife, Christine, expand the distillery, he said. He’d have to divest from the business if he won the governorship, he said.
So far, longtime Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam are running.
Riggleman said he plans to make a decision by the first week of January on whether to enter the gubernatorial contest. If he runs, Riggleman plans a full bore attack on “cronyism” in Virginia politics.
“When you actually see cronyism up close and personal, it becomes much more than a term you see in the newspaper,” Riggleman said. “… If you’re lobbying to actually create rules … that your specific goal is to create an uneven playing field, that’s something that not only needs to go away, that’s something that needs to be criminalized.”
Riggleman was riled during the 2016 General Assembly when he and other distillers tried to peel back restrictions on distilleries selling their hard liquor. The alcohol lobby and an incremental legislative process blocked the sweeping changes he wanted. He compared the experience to fighting back the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, partially owned by energy company Dominion, from coming through Silverback’s property.
He considered running as an independent so as not to bind himself but considers himself a conservative and liberty-minded. Running under the GOP banner, he said, was the best path to victory.
Riggleman attended his first party convention this year as a delegate for Tom Garrett at the 5th Congressional District convention. He met with party members as a potential candidate at the Republican Party of Virginia Advance in Richmond last weekend.
Riggleman’s exploratory committee, an unofficial coalition, not a legal entity, is led by Zach Werrell, who is fresh off Tom Garrett’s winning 5th Congressional District campaign. Werrell was campaign manager for now-Rep. Dave Brat when he upset Eric Cantor in Virginia’s 7th District Republican primary in 2014.
The tentative campaign has opened a gubernatorial account and also has put money in the Restoring Economic Fundamentals political action committee Riggleman founded this year, Werrell said. Werrell said he is “working 18 hours a day” to get the potential campaign running and plans to have the “most powerful ground game in the state” on Day 1.
“This is not some quixotic ride at a windmill. This is about winning a race against a bunch of career insiders, and not just sending a message but actually winning to do something for once,” Werrell said.
Riggleman would be entering a field with well-traveled politicians as a newcomer. Winning a statewide race without deep political ties would be unusual, according to University of Virginia Center of Politics’ Geoffrey Skelley, who had little knowledge of Riggleman when interviewed this week.
“It’s almost always someone who has some pretty notable political ties,” Skelley said. “… If he’s not somebody who is sort of a mover and shaker in Republican circles, maybe he would be sort of an unusual candidate.”