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The Kid Gloves Continue for Ryan Zinke in Lee’s Coverage of His Residency

Every few months, I find myself wondering what it is about Ryan Zinke that makes the press in Montana so reticent to cover him with the kind of critical attention that candidates have traditionally received. He’s a candidate who, by many accounts, is a persona non grata among some Navy SEALS for his shameless self-promotion, an inveterate flip flopper of the first order, a farcical violator of campaign finance laws, a supporter of an anti-woman, xenophobic racist, and the person who outed Navy SEAL Team Six after the Osama bin Laden raid.

He’s the kind of candidate an enterprising reporter would love to cover, but unfortunately, he’s treated with softer gloves than the ones Greg Gianforte wears when he pretends to work on a farm.

And he’s the kind of candidate who deserves more scrutiny than others, given his repeated assertions about aspirations for higher office and his tendency to make incredibly inflammatory remarks only to later try to pass them off as jokes. Despite this, his coverage from much of the Montana press has been so deferential that, at times, rather than covering him, it seems the press spend more time lauding him.

The latest, and perhaps most egregious example of this tendency is on display in the latest Lee story about Congressman Zinke, headlined in the Missoulian as “Zinke decries attacks on his Montana residency,” a story that seems far less interested in determining the truth about the Congressman’s residency status than in defending him.

The entire framework of the story is absurd. While the story is presented as Zinke’s defense against Democratic attacks, it doesn’t reference a single quote from a Democratic Party official or candidate, other than to suggest that the Montana Democratic Party has been “sending out tweets questioning where Zinke lives.”

A search of the Montana Democrats Twitter feed, though, doesn’t show any such tweets, making me wonder why the reporters chose to frame their piece that way.

The Lee piece doesn’t even mention my October 4 post, which lays out all of the evidence for Zinke’s California residency and more they chose to ignore.

Instead, the story offers a platform for Congressman Zinke to insult his opponent and for his campaign spokeswoman to dissemble on the issue.

In the piece, Zinke had this to say about his opponent:

“Is it 54 generations?” Zinke said. “Born in Oakland. I don’t think that counts as 54 generations. And why 54 or 52 or 51?

That’s not only incredibly insulting, both suggesting that Superintendent Juneau’s genealogy is somehow less legitimate because of her Native heritage, and ignorantly discounting the impact of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which led to thousands of American Indians leaving their homes as the government tried to mandate a failed assimilation policy. One would think a member of Congress from Montana would know that legacy and its devastating impact on Indian peoples.

A pair of reporters interested in the facts might have researched that, and then followed up with Zinke’s own biographical claims. Surely, the Congressman has uncovered an explanation for why his official campaign material listed him as a third-generation Montanan in 2014, but mysteriously shifted to fifth-generation sometime after the 2014 campaign. Unless Congressman Zinke counts moving to California and back, that’s not how generations work.

The story also fails to dig into the fundamental questions that remain about where Congressman Zinke actually lives:

  • Just how much time has the Congressman spent in California in the past four years?
  • Why, if he is not a resident of California, have a local paper, a Congressional candidate he supports, and even his own wife described the two as California residents?
  • Why did Congressman Zinke’s staff tell a member of the media that he did not have a Whitefish residence?
  • If the Snowfrog Inn never operated as a business, did the Zinkes claim their property taxes as a loss on the business? Why is their private home still not listed in tax forms under their own names?
  • Why did the web site for the Snowfrog Inn only come down a week after my first story calling his residency into question?
  • Given the claim that the Zinkes claim they planned to live in the Whitefish address while it operated as an inn, just how many bedrooms does the place have?

The story also seems to miss the broader point about Zinke’s financial dealings. It describes the business in charge of his failed bed and breakfast as “Continental Divide International, a trust of sorts created by Zinke.” What is a “trust of sorts” and why has Congressman Zinke shifted ownership of his “home” from his own name to CDI and back multiple times. Why did Congressman Zinke collect nearly $40,000 from his Super PAC, paid to Continental Divide International, despite claiming that he wouldn’t take a cent for his work?

Back in 2014, Republican Congressman Rick Hill said that Zinke needed to make his records from CDI public to ensure that he was not improperly receiving benefits:

Zinke needs to make public the financial records of Continental Divide International. We need to know if he had used it to improperly funnel money from SOFA and other entities for personal gain.

That Congressman Zinke is relying on the same shell company he’s relied on to justify getting paid by his Super PAC is hardly evidence that he lives in Montana, but it’s certainly evidence that the press needs to investigate his financial dealings.

It’s just incredibly disappointing that the major papers of this state seem so unwilling to confront our Congressman, whether it’s investigating his shady campaign finance practices or his residency status. Instead of a story allowing the Congressman to feign outrage that questions are being asked, why isn’t there a front page headline story about his historic rate of out-of-state campaign contributions?

The one thing we’ve learned about Congressman Zinke over the past few years is that he’s brave man. Surely, he has the bravery to answer some hard questions from political reporters, if those reporters find the courage to start asking them.

zinkeleeUpdate: When I researched for this story, I only searched the Twitter feed for the Montana Democratic Party because I assumed that there must have been some new information leading to the publication of this story in a newspaper. It turns out the tweets in question, according to one of the reporters, were from October 4. I apologize for the error, though that seems like a pertinent bit of information to have included in the story, especially when the original Lee story claims the Montana Democratic Party has been attacking Congressman Zinke “in recent days.”

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 has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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  • Seal skin, the best prophylactic there is! (except it’s a little on the thin side as in the case of Slinky the Barking seal)

    And lest we forget, he chose as his running mate for guv that very, very, EXTREMELY strange outta state dude, Livinscam! That pretty much indicates where ol’ Slinky is coming from. He ponces right back into Montana from outta state with his weirdo sidekick in tow, an them two are gonna fix Montana for the rest of us! Even though they know NOTHING about Montana.

    But really, ANY dude who claims to have his “own CIA” is by his own admission a serious nutjob! But this sort of thing appeals to all the other outta state mlisha mental midgets up there in Slinky country. And unfortunately, a whole lotta others too. For the military industrial complex has worked it propaganda magic well.

  • “A sort of a trust” is total bullshit. So he can leave it to his kids? Bullshit. You go to you’re lawyer and put it down in a thing called a Will! Done! I believe it’s being used for what Rick Hill suggested. And to screw Montana on property tax. I have a good friend lives in Kalispell, i mean we’ve been friends since we were 5, 45 yrs now. He’s ALWAYS been a staunch Republican, but not the asshole type. He supported Zinke 1st time around. Talked to him the other day, first words out of his mouth,” There’s something not right with that f’er!” What f’er i ask. “Zinke he says”. WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD!

  • FYI – Lola Zinke’s mother, Consuelo Hand passed away after many years of suffering from Alzheimer’s and other illnesses. The legacy of this blog will be it’s reputation for taking cheap political shots by criticizing a family for caring and spending time with a dying parent.

    • Pogo, my condolences to the Zinke/Hand families. Alzheimer’s takes a terrible toll on everyone involved. No one can blame Ryan or Consuelo for spending time with a sick mother/mother-in-law. May Consuelo rest in peace.

      The question remains, however, does Ryan Zinke maintain a residence in Montana? Even Baucus kept a home here for the 36 years while he was in the Senate.

      And a final question: your feelings on Zinke’s unwavering support for Trump. Will it hurt him?

      • Baucus listed his mother’s house as his residence for many, if not most, of those 36 years where, he said, he occasionally slept in her spare bedroom. His real residence was in the east coast. He also listed his Missoula campaign headquarters as his residence for several yers. In spite of this, he was still a Montana resident. Don implies that Zinke should not be eligible to serve in office because he doesn’t own property in Montana. Again, more BS. Zinke owns his own residence and multiple properties in Montana. How this ownership is titled is irrelevant. Baucus didn’t own any property in Montana throughout most of the time he was in office. In fact, I can’t find where Don owned any property in Montana under any title when he ran for Governor.

        And yes, Zinke does maintain a residence in Whitefish, Montana on property that has been in his family for at least three generations. The BS about the Snowflake Inn is just BS. It was built and designed for the Zinke’s to live in one section of the house and to use the other half as a bed and breakfast.

        Pete, as always, have been very respectful to Zinke’s family. I can’t say the same for Don and a few others who criticized not only Zinke but repeatedly criticized and taunted Lola for spending time in California with her mother. As one person pointed out to me recently, Don even criticized Lola for watching the Zinke/Juneau debate from her mother’s home town of Santa Barbara a few weeks before Mrs. Hand’s death. That is heartless.

        • I do know that Baucus maintained a small house in Missoula, on Rattlesnake Creek near Greenough Park. He would rent it out from time-to-time, when Congress was in session (which as everyone knows isn’t all that often). I know this because a friend rented it for a short while.

          But we’re splitting hairs here.

        • Oh pogo puhhhhhhhhhhhleeze! Max, as much as I disliked his policies, played a huge role in writing our state’s constitution. No small feat. Slinky the Barking Seal did what??? Football scholarship??? And then the military??

          Now, pogo, WHICH of these in your estimation takes more brains?!

          Max is one of us. Slinky is one of them! He could no more write a constitution than figure out sh*t from shinola!

      • Regarding Zinke’s support of Trump, if the polls are any indication, it doesn’t seem to be hurting him at all. I have seen a lot of the GOP internal polls and the recent Lee poll. All show him up between 11 and 13 points.

    • Cheap shot, pogo. EVERY one dies, amigo. That is NOT the question. The question is does Slinky or DOESN’T Slinky live in Montana? THAT is the question!

      And really, if Slinky didn’t WANT the job and would have preferred to resign and take care of an ailing relative, I do NOT think that anyone would have thought the less of him.

      But when you sign on to represent Montana in congress, it’s either full-time or get the hell outta the way! I’m sure that Slinky, with ALL his seal training, could have figured out a way to complete his mission!………….to us that is!

  • Max never owned any property in Montana? Ever hear of Sieban Ranch north of Helena? He only owned part of it since he was born. His brother John has ran it since Max went into politics. Everything was owned by the Sieben Ranch Co. , Baucus’s ARE Sieban Ranch. If i remember right Max didn’t divest of his part of Sieban until around 2007-8. Most Montana so-called newspapers in the last 10 yrs wouldn’t know that because they don’t bother to do research. Wikipedia is only half right. Ask about any long time ranch family in Montana and THEY KNOW the Sieban – Baucus connection.

  • Pete – you are right. Everyone is spending too much time splitting hairs over the residency issue. While I may have disagreed with Max’s political positons at times, I respected him as a person and had no problem accepting him as a Montana “resident” legally eligible to serve in office.

    Here is a good article discussing Max’s Montana residency I found in a 2007 issue of the Helena Independent . It mentions his Missoula home which he sold in 1991. It includes a legal interpretation of residency from Rob Natelson in defense of Baucus.

    I am aware of the Sieben Ranch, Bryan. I have been on it, but have been told Max was not given ownership or partnership in the Sieben “family ranch”. However, I am willing to defer to anyone who has better knowledge of the subject. Again, whether he did or didn’t is irrelevant. He claimed Montana as his residency and I accept that.

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