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A Ryan Zinke Primer Before the RNC Speech: Just Who Is Montana’s Lone Congressman?

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Millions of Americans who don’t live in bunkers where their only source of news is a steady diet of Breitbart and Fox will be getting their first exposure to Ryan Zinke Monday night as he will be one of the primetime speakers at the Republican National Convention. That Zinke has a spot isn’t surprising. Given the almost palpable reluctance of senior Republicans to even be seen at the event, the Trump team had to move down to the political equivalent of Dustin Diamond and Carrot Top, people so desperate for attention that they’d appear before any audience, even if it meant promoting the candidacy of a quasi-fascist troll who is probably the least qualified major party candidate for President in American history.

And Ryan Zinke, ever the self-promoter, jumped at the chance.

Most of us in Montana are familiar with the state senator turned Congressman, a freshman who imagines he was being seriously considered as Speaker of the House during his first six months in Congress and who seemed earnestly to believe that he was a legitimate candidate for the GOP nomination for Vice President with little more experience, but Zinke’s probably not as well-known elsewhere. For those of getting your first look, here are some things to know about the kind of Congressman Donald Trump could get to speak for him.

He fashions himself a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, but has worked to undermine Roosevelt’s greatest legacy.

Congressman Zinke endlessly tells people that he is a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican, but his record is one of working against Roosevelt’s greatest legacies, our national public lands. Zinke voted against Clean Water and Clean Power, and worst of all, against Roosevelt’s key achievements, the Antiquities Act.

He works against the needs of his constituents.

Zinke has endorsed or voted for the worst elements of the Republican budget in Congress, including cuts to Medicare, services for Indian Country, Pell Grants, and health services for women.

He might completely unhinged about US military adventurism.

He has called for the US to invade Mexico, joked about being involved in torture while a member of the US military, and brags on his official Congressional web site about his “kill count” in his military service. On alternating days, he’s criticized President Obama for not sending troops to battle ISIS and then said that the US should not send in those troops.

He has never come clean on his military record.

The cornerstone of Mr. Zinke’s political career is his military service, but he has never released the full disciplinary report for a transgression that derailed his career for a serious chunk of time. And you don’t have to take my word for it, as one of Zinke’s former commanders wrote a lengthy piece back in 2014 that Zinke was a “PNG (persona non grata) at his old SEAL team, primarily for the misleading statements he has made about his rank and importance at that “special” team” and that Zinke was willing to do or say whatever it takes to advance his interests.

He hosts receptions for ex-military officials who have called for an armed insurrection against the President and entire Congress.

In one of the worst displays of judgment for a Montana politician since William A. Clark bought a Senate seat, Congressman Zinke hosted a day’s worth of events with Retired General Paul Vallely, an Obama birther who claimed that Congress was refusing to act against President Obama because of a “fear of a black uprising” and who called for an “American Spring”—an armed coup against the President and Congress. In most states, a Congressman acting like that would be newsworthy, but not yet in Montana.

His campaign fundraising has been farcically unethical and to his personal benefit

He transferred leadership of personal SuperPAC to a friend just days before announcing his bid for Congress, one that very SuperPAC supported from an address across the street from Mr. Zinke during his first congressional campaign. Worse yet, he used that SuperPAC as a personal piggybank, paying himself and a shell company he ran exorbitant fees for consulting, despite telling media the organization would raise money for veterans—something it never did. In his current campaign for the House, his campaign bought a $70,000 RV from his wife. Even former Montana Republican Congressman Rick Hill has suggested that Zinke’s relationship to his SuperPAC was troubling and needed to be investigated.

He is a sexist who has worked to deny healthcare to women.

Despite sponsoring an amendment that would have mandated that women be drafted to serve in the military, he has argued that their presence will kill male soldiers. While formerly claiming that he was pro-choice, Zinke sharply pivoted to a pro-life position during his run for the House, going so far as to call the female leaders of a Montana anti-choice group liars when they pointed out his inconsistent position on reproductive rights. At one campaign event, he called Secretary Clinton the “Anti-Christ.”

He betrayed Navy SEAL Team 6 for personal glory.

Despite creating his national profile by attacking President Obama for publicizing details of the bin Laden killing, going so far as to say that government officials should be prosecuted for their actions, Mr. Zinke was the first figure to publicize the details of the raid, contacting media outlets across the country within hours of the raid, before the Special Forces operators had been identified publicly. It’s among the most cynical things I have seen in Montana politics, and story the mainstream press in Montana has refused to touch.

And there’s so much more, from his waffling on issues ranging from climate change to gun control to his incredible aversion to the truth. He’s the perfect choice for a speaker on the opening night of the Republican convention for Donald Trump, as he’s another unethical, self-promoting blowhard who thinks platitudes are policies and bluster is a substitute for knowledge.

Fortunately, Montana does have an outstanding candidate running for Congress this year against Mr. Zinke. Denise Juneau, a fifty-fourth generation, Montana and Harvard-educated former teacher, and eight-year leader of Montana’s schools who would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress if she defeated Mr. Zinke.

You can learn about her campaign and help counter the flood of right wing money that will come Mr. Zinke’s way at her campaign web site.

Tomorrow; Some entertainment options during the Zinke speech tomorrow night.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an 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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