As we enter the last two weeks before election day, Montanans will have the opportunity to select a new Congressman—and the difference between the two candidates could not be clearer. John Lewis is the clear choice, as editorial boards across the state have noted. They’ve called him the “best prepared” candidate who will approach “issues in nuanced yet substantive terms,” “hit the ground running,”and offer the “experience, temperament and pragmatism to best serve Montanans” in Congress.
His opponent, Ryan Zinke? The embodiment of everything that people hate about politicians: a self-promoting, intemperate ideologue willing to say anything to get elected. While there are certainly more reasons to reject his candidacy, I’ve 20 of the best reasons Montanans cannot allow Ryan Zinke to represent himself in Washington.
1. The man simply cannot be trusted. As the rest of this post will demonstrate and a careful study of his mendacious campaign has shown, former Senator Zinke is unique in Montana politics for his willingness to say whatever he believes it will take to win an election. Whether it’s public lands, reproductive rights, the Second Amendment, Medicare, energy policy, Indian country, or almost any other issue, Senator Zinke has demonstrated that he is a man without principle, and one who cannot represent us in Washington.
2. He does not believe in Montana’s heritage of public lands. Instead of proposing a rational solution to ensure continued public access, he released a plan pandering to fringe conservative elements and demanding that local officials have veto power over federal land decisions. He supported the Ryan budget which calls for the sale of public lands to the highest bidder and even signed a fringe TEA Party pledge to transfer federal lands to the state, despite acknowledging that the plan could not work.
3. He cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting Medicare. He has repeatedly voiced support for the Ryan budget, which, according to the Washington Post “would cut federal spending by $5 trillion over the next decade by effectively repealing the Affordable Care Act, making deep cuts to Medicare and cutting taxes significantly for the nation’s wealthiest earners.”
4. He’s almost entirely beholden to out of state interests and money. At least 71% of his campaign donations during this election have come from out of state.
5. He’s opposed to quality public schools During his term in the Legislature, he voted against special education funding and increased funding for public schools, and for increased college tuition. According to the Billings Gazette Zinke plays to conservative fears, undermining education standards through repeated references to the Common Core State Standards “to whip up a federal bogeyman grossly misrepresents the focus on greater academic rigor and accountability that Montana public schools are striving to provide under standards that our state chose to adopt in a public process.”
6. He supports devastating cuts to Indian country, from health care services to Pell Grants.
7. He’s in favor of reducing college opportunities for middle class Montana families through Pell Grants, calling for cuts in one of the most effective anti-poverty programs the nation has ever known.
8. The military service which seems to be his sole qualification for office is shadowed by a total refusal to release his complete military records, including a fitness report from 1999 that, according to a former Navy SEAL commander, probably explains why he was forced out of Team Six in 1999, two years before the 9/11 attacks.
9. He wants to threaten one of our state treasures in Glacier National Park by allowing drilling for oil and gas on the North Fork of the Flathead.
11. It’s impossible to discern his position on the Second Amendment, which should be the easiest position imaginable for a Montana Republican. During this campaign season, Zinke asserted that he was an ardent defender of the Second Amendment, supporting his claims not with actual votes, but with pictures of himself holding guns. The truth is that Zinke has the worst record on guns of any Republican candidate in a generation, with an 8% rating from the Montana Shooting Sports Association, a 42% rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund and 57% from the NRA just in 2014. And his record bears this out: during his time in the Legislature, Zinke told Project Vote Smart he was undecided on background checks for gun sales and current Montana state law, positions that are a lot closer to mine than the the mainstream of Montana voters.
12. He’s run the most unethical campaign fundraising operation in recent state history, making Conrad Burns seem like Paul Wellstone. Zinke’s farcically unethical association with the Special Operations for America Super PAC is already under FEC complaint, and as time passes, theevidence will only become clearer: Zinke used the organization for his political purposes and SOFA continued to work for Zinke during the campaign. It’s not just Mother Jones and liberal bloggers making those claims; even conservatives like Ken Miller and Rick Hill have raised concerns about Zinke’s involvement in SOFA.
13. He has repeatedly changed his mind on abortion rights, going from a self-described “pro-choice” legislator with the highest Republican score from NARAL/Pro-Choice Montana to a self-described “pro-life” candidate for the House willing to call anti-abortion activists liars for pointing out his dishonest record. His record on abortion rights is so terrible that he had to pay for the endorsement of Montana Right to Life.
14. He issued a proposal for combatting the scourge of suicide in the military by telling veterans that their mental health problems are not real.
15. He wants to hurt the growing Montana wind energy sector by refusing it the same level of federal support enjoyed by Big Oil, even though Zinke himself called on President Obama to support renewables with subsidies in 2009.
16. He has a deeply sexist attitude about the women serving in our military.
17. He has repeatedly exploited heroism of the Navy SEALS who found and killed Osama bin Laden, exposing their mission to the public and releasing a deeply cynical campaign e-mail aking credit for having helped kill the terrorist leaser.
18. He’s admitted that he will serve the interests of Big Oil if elected to the Congress.
19. He raised money to pay himself an exorbitant “consulting” salary while promising to raise money for veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of helping these members of the military, he raised money for himself while raising his political profile for this house race.
20. He honestly seems to believe that his unique combination of arrogance and talking points are sufficient reason for Montana voters to support his candidacy. The Billings Gazette’s editorial endorsing John Lewis makes it quite clear why that position is insufficient:
“Zinke speaks in confident sound bites. Lewis’ answers are more substantive, reflective of a public servant who studies the issues and is open to collaborating with people.”