Riggelman’s Revanche Rhetoric


What is a native Virginian? A Native American who was here before settlers? An African American who was shanghaied to Virginia? A settler who emigrated from England?

Born in the USA is a Constitutional requirement to serve as President. Upon reflection, the inclusion of this birth qualification seems odd for a nation that, even in colonial times, was being populated by immigrants. Then, too, in contemporary politics, birth origin has been converted into a sword to “other” some political careers, i.e. Barack Obama’s. Revanche is a term often applied in a metaphoric sense to represent reclamation of past glory as well as geographic territory. Russia with respect to invasions of the Crimea and Ukraine is a classic example of revanche.

In the United States, “otherism” and immigration have been molded to define the dangers of outsiders in general. The birther campaign against President Obama is one example, while characterizations of Mexicans, Muslims, and assorted other non-American born residents has expanded the ambit of “we versus them.”

Recently, Denver Riggelman, a Virginia congressperson (R-5th), remarked that over 50% of the people (i.e., elected legislators) now in the House and Senate “have not been born in Virginia.”

Recently, Denver Riggelman, a Virginia congressperson (R-5th), remarked during a radio interview that over 50% of the people (i.e., elected legislators) now in the House and Senate “have not been born in Virginia.” And most of them he said are completely new–to Virginia, one must assume. It seems the reference to “new” also applies to first-term legislators. Riggelman went further by asserting that this 50%+ cohort is constituted of folks “not even Virginians by grace yet.” As a result, Riggelman concluded, Democrats (it is uncertain that the 50% applied only to Democrats since at least one Republican is known to have been born outside Virginia) faced the “shortest tenure ever for a majority” representing an “absolutely loco” agenda out of sync with Virginia.

Are these comments another form of birtherism? Ought state jurisdictions, the Commonwealth in particular,  adopt a birthright provision for the election of state officials similar to that of the US Constitution?  The congressperson’s words seem clearly to indicate that elected officials not born in the Commonwealth cannot appropriately or adequately represent its electorate. Nor, apparently, may a candidate be vouched in or assert a claim equal to native birth by grace. By whom or how may such grace be conferred? How may the policies or conduct of an elected official be judged to be in “sync” with Virginia? Of note, Riggelman was once censured by a local party organization for officiating at a same sex marriage.

The 14th Amendment’s equal protection provision, according to a number of Supreme Court decisions, guarantees privileges and immunities of each state to citizens of the several states. Although most often involving interstate travel, at least one decision expressed a broader net of privileges and immunities:

In Saenz v. Roe (1999) Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority held that the Constitution protects three separate aspects of the right to travel among the states:

  • the right to enter one state and leave another (an inherent right with historical support from the Articles of Confederation),
  • the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than a hostile stranger (protected by the “Privileges and Immunities” clause in Article V, Sec. 2, and
  • (for those who become permanent residents of a state) the right to be treated equally to native-born citizens.

Riggelman’s attempt to regain some mythic lost status in the face of a state legislature no longer populated by a majority of native-born Virginians is nonsensical by its terms and in light of Constitutional freedoms. Oddly, Riggelman failed to call attention to the fact that 50% of the Commonwealth’s US Senators are not born in Virginia. The blockbuster scandal, however, is the fact that only one of the Commonwealth’s Congressional House delegation is a native-born Virginian. Why did Riggelman withhold the fact of his uniqueness? Essentially, it reflects a nativist or jingoist sentiment that, in fact, has little in common with the realities of contemporary political culture or population dynamics. Said plainly: it is ignorant patter.

Revanchist political rhetoric such as Riggelman’s is, unfortunately, likely to persist in the same way as the birther nonsense promoted by the current President has endured. The saving grace (to refer to a Riggelman quality) is that any attempt to create a birthright requirement for elective office in the Old Dominion is likely to fail due to the current non-Virginian majority in the General Assembly.

Categories: Immigration, Issues, Local, National

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1 reply

  1. VoxFairfax editors apologize for failing to fact check. It turns out 50% of the Commonwealth’s US Senators were not born in Virginia. Sen. Mark Warner was born in Indiana. Apologies.

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