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Rep. Scott Rigell: Maverick GOP freshman in the eye of a political storm

Obama is hitting Virginia Beach, Va., Thursday for a reason: It's one of the hottest political ad markets in the country. Its congressman, Scott Rigell, is out to change Washington's 'toxic mix of partisanship, no facts, weak ideas.'

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But from where Rigell sits, he sees no choice but to try.

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Americans “know that our country is at great risk unless we find a way to find common ground in sound legislation that’s actually enacted,” Rigell says. “This paralysis we’re in, this toxic mix of partisanship, no facts, weak ideas, is – the Republic can’t stand this.” 
Before 2009, Rigell was a successful businessman with only a marginal  interest in politics. He built his auto dealerships and real estate holdings in the Hampton Roads region into a small fortune. He's the 29th richest member of Congress, with a net worth of more than $10 million.

But fearing for a nation in dire fiscal straits, Rigell in 2010 threw himself into a crowded GOP primary in Virginia’s Second Congressional District. Despite having donated money to then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008 – a move some thought would be a showstopper in a GOP Virginia primary – he won, riding the Republican wave (and a cool $2 million of his own funds) into the House over freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D).

He hasn’t been tapped as a rising star by the GOP’s leadership and doesn’t have any sweeping legislative achievements. He’s a low-key member with a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, the political lifeblood of a member from a district studded with military installations, but he hasn’t been at the forefront of Washington’s most high-profile political fights.

But many who have met Rigell say he has a particular skill that many politicos claim to posses: He not only listens, but he actually hears what people say.
Quentin Kidd, a professor of politics at Christopher Newport University in Virginia Beach, sidled up to Rigell at a Boy Scout event and introduced himself as a new constituent. When Mr. Kidd mentioned where he lived, Rigell told him, “ ‘I need to get over there and learn the issues and meet people.’ I appreciated that because a lot of people would act like they already knew a good part of the district.... I think that’s his character," Kidd said.

And when what Rigell hears doesn’t make sense, he goes after the facts.

Undecided on a politically explosive vote to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress, Rigell did something that’s all but unheard of on Capitol Hill: He invited Democratic staff wonks to his office to argue their case. Pitch me, he said. In the end, Rigell was one of two Republicans to vote on June 29 against the criminal contempt charge, while voting with his GOP colleagues in favor of a civil contempt charge.

Rigell believes the attorney general should be replaced, as he made clear in a letter to constituents after the vote.

But “if Congress can obtain the documents through a civil contempt citation,” Rigell wrote, “then why immediately choose the sanction of last resort: criminal contempt?”

That willingness to go his own way has won Rigell respect from his peers.


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