Along with many Montanans, we were encouraged by President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana to head the Department of the Interior.
Amid a sea of appointments whose values seem to contradict with the very departments they were nominated to lead, here is a man who has stood up to protect the federal public lands the Department of the Interior oversees. Zinke has repeatedly bucked his own party's leaders to vote against transferring ownership of federal lands, an aspect of the Republican platform that is abhorred in Montana, and he has even gone so far as to resign as a delegate to the Republican National Convention over the GOP’s position on this issue.
And he is a Montanan! Despite the partisan attacks on his residency that cropped up during his latest campaign because he spends part of the year with family in California, Zinke is more Montanan than many in our state and has an intimate knowledge of what is important to the people who live here.
But now we’re starting to question whether Zinke even wants to maintain his relationship with Montana if the Senate confirms his appointment to Trump’s cabinet, or if he will treat our state like an ex he left for someone new and more exciting. Because ever since Zinke and Trump began talking about his nomination, it seems our state’s lone U.S. representativehas been paying less attention to the people who re-elected him to Congress two months ago.
After Zinke’s team sent out a press release in late November announcing that his wife Lolita would join Trump’s Veterans Administration landing team, his communications director declined to respond to questions about the appointment and denied press access to Zinke and his wife.
The response was the same after Zinke’s office announced the appointment of Aaron Flint to manage the congressman’s Montana staff in December.
On the day Trump officially nominated Zinke for Interior secretary last month, our congressman would not comment to our reporter beyond the statements included in a press release issued by the president-elect’s transition team.
Now Zinke is under fire in Montana for his vote on a rules change that would make it easier to transfer federal lands to state ownership, which seems to directly contradict the values he held during his last two years as our congressman. And when we reached out to give Zinke the opportunity to explain why he voted the way he did, all his communications director would say is that his position on public lands has not changed, ignoring additional questions and access to the congressman yet again.
Montanans deserve more from their leaders than carefully crafted statements massaged by marketing experts. They deserve to hear from their elected leaders directly and to have their questions answered, especially on something as big as Zinke’s recent vote on public lands.
Zinke has done a lot of good for Montana, and his appointment as Interior secretary could be a great thing for our state and the West. But only if he stays true to his Montana values and the Montana voters who set him on this path to become eighth in the United States presidential line of succession.
Montanans still need you, Rep. Zinke. Will you continue to be there for them?