By Halle Parker, Danville Register & Bee
When she looks at Danville, Leslie Cockburn said she sees a place undergoing a renaissance that’s on its way to becoming a destination.
“Danville is going to be attracting people, not the other way around,” she said after condemning the way the city was recently described by Breitbart News — a conservative online news outlet — and in stumps by Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Cockburn said Stewart was using Danville as a “whipping boy.”
“The last thing we need is someone trashing Danville,” she said.
When addressing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Cockburn noted that initially there were plans to cut the federal historic tax credits that encouraged entrepreneurs to develop in the River District.
Chris Daniels, chairman of the Danville Democratic Committee, said, “If money were not available for these kinds of projects, Danville may be the way that Breitbart and Corey Stewart described it, but it’s not.”
The former investigative journalist pointed to the tax bill’s other “hidden problems,” including its tilt toward aiding corporations and upper-class Americans, new taxes on churches and nonprofits as well as reducing the incentive for developers to build affordable housing.
“The tax bill is really a tax scam,” stated Cockburn passionately during a phone interview between events on Tuesday.
Pittsylvania County Democratic Committee Chairman Roy Ford said Cockburn’s strong personality is apparent, along with her intelligence.
“Anybody who meets Leslie will find someone who can stand up for herself, stand up for most anyone,” he said.
After living in Rappahannock County for around 11 years on a farm with her husband, Cockburn said the issues brought to her by Pittsylvania County residents sounded familiar to those faced at home.
Limited broadband access, stunted commodity prices for farmers and a need for job growth were some of the areas of focus economically.
For Danville and Pittsylvania County Democrats, the election of Leslie Cockburn at the 5th District delegate would be a step toward not only preserving the tax benefits that have helped in the city’s efforts downtown, but also protect residents’ health care with the Affordable Care Act.
“The Affordable Care Act has its problems, it needs some correction,” said Ford. “But eliminating it doesn’t seem like a very good solution and I think she represents a side that will work on a solution to some of the problems and yet keep a lot of it in place.”
Cockburn said she unequivocally disagreed with the Trump administration’s belief that guaranteeing health care to individuals with preexisting conditions was unconstitutional. She said she remembered the days before ACA was enacted when those people were denied health care.
“That Trump administration policy, what they’re pushing right now, will hurt Danville, and that cannot stand, that’s why I’m running,” said Cockburn.
Like her Republican opponent Denver Riggleman, Cockburn has never held public office.
After growing up in California in a wealthy family, she attended Yale University and studied abroad before snagging her first job with NBC.
From there, she went on to work for other television news outlets including Frontline and 60 Minutes, covering issues on foreign soil and interviewing political figures like Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Ford said he believes Cockburn’s past will help her on the Hill, where she’s already familiar with many of the players.
“She doesn’t have to learn some of the folks, she already knows who they are and has met with them and worked with them,” he said.
Indeed, aside from health care, Cockburn named several bipartisan efforts already underway in Washington, D.C., that she plans to support, including one on broadband expansion, and plans to protect the Farm Bill, which provides subsidies to farmers to insure their crops, from a reduction in funding.
“My sense is she represents a more practical way to deal with industry,” said Ford.
Cockburn said in her many visits to Pittsylvania County, she’s often heard concerns about the potential for the state’s ban on uranium mining to be lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court next year after the arguments are heard on Nov. 5.
With her background in conservation, she said the issue hits close to home.
Should the ban be lifted, Cockburn said she promises to work at the national level to protect the county residents from the potential health and environmental hazards.
“If at a federal level that is overturned, I will do my utmost to make sure that the ban … is not lifted in Pittsylvania,” she said. “Uranium mining is very disastrous for the people of Pittsylvania.”
While Ford and Daniels recognize that the 5th District traditionally votes red in elections, they’ve both said their committees are working to mobilize as many voters to check Cockburn’s name at the ballot box as possible.
Daniels said, “She brings a strong interest and commitment to the people of the 5th District. Leslie’s well aware of many of the issues we face here.”
Ford said the county’s goal is just to increase the percentage of people who vote democratic come Nov. 6, as Republicans typically win in Pittsylvania by 20 to 30 point margins.
Labeled a toss-up by political analysts, Daniels said the key will be voter turnout.
“The name of the game any time in a place like Danville, particularly in the city of Danville, is if voters turnout then the more progressive leaning candidate is going to do well,” said Daniels.
The final day to register to vote is Oct. 15.