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Even Ryan “Buster” Zinke’s Press Secretary Knows His Roosevelt Shtick is a Con

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It’s been rough for Buster since he went off to head Interior. He’s been exposed as a fraud as an outdoorsman, a crook who can’t help but defraud the taxpayer when it comes to travel expenses, a cretin who rudely responds to members of the public, and a sycophant more interested in appeasing Donald Trump than in fighting for the public lands he swore, under oath, to protect.

He’s come under attack from the left and right as his propensity for self-promotion and ethical shortcuts has been uncovered by the national press which regularly asks where Zinke ranks among the worst of the Trump appointments.

Through it all, though, Zinke has been able to count on the stalwart support of his press secretary, Heather Swift, who has cheerfully been willing to assail those who criticize Zinke, even that when that has required lying about her boss and his record.

Even Ms. Swift, though, seems to have drawn the line when it comes to pretending that Secretary Zinke’s Teddy Roosevelt fetish is anything other than act. As Aaron Weiss, the Media Director at the Center for Western Priorities points out, Swift takes credit for constructing the media-friendly persona and elevating the “unknown” Congressman by developing his “brand.” In her resume:

Et tu, Swift?

What Swift is taking credit for in her resume is what those of us who have followed Zinke for years have always known: that his fixation on Teddy Roosevelt is more about preening than policy and more about branding than being a champion for public lands.

Zinke’s branding is as inauthentic as the famous photo of Roosevelt riding a moose, but far more damaging. Just this week, President Trump offered a proposed budget that would slash funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, cutting its acquisition budget by 95%. Zinke, who has struggled to maintain an honest or consistent position on the LWCF since his time in the Congress, either has so little influence with the Trump Administration that they ignored his efforts to protect the fund or didn’t fight for it at all, because the Teddy Roosevelt brand is what matters, not protecting Roosevelt’s legacy and the public lands he championed.

I must give Ms. Swift credit here. She’s managed to help Zinke get away with this messaging for a couple of years, but each moment of decision Zinke has faced at Interior—from his embarrassing, politicized response to criticism of offshore oil drilling to his decision to price American families out of our national parks—has undermined the illusion and left us with the stark, ugly image of an Interior Secretary so beholden to oil and has companies that we might actually see pipelines cutting across our national parks.

It’s time for Buster Zinke to go back home to California and work on developing his “brand” there. The real work of preserving and protecting public lands doesn’t require someone who likes dressing up like Teddy Roosevelt, but someone who is willing to fight like he was.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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