Last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed erstwhile representative Ryan Zinke as the new Secretary of the Interior. It was a momentous occasion, and it raised many questions. Would the cabinet change him? Would the man Montanans got to know as our sole representative in Congress compromise the principles that defined his legislative career? These questions were answered March 2, when he rode a horse to his first day of work.
That's the Commander Zinke I know. He borrowed the horse from the U.S. Park Police, whom he commended in a subsequent tweet for "put[ting] their lives on the line for us." Fortunately, no Park Police officer has died in the line of duty since 2011, when Sergeant Michael Boehm suffered a heart attack while responding to a suicide attempt. The important thing is that the transition from Congress to Cabinet finds Zinke still just supporting the daylights out of our troops, along with police, firefighters and most members of the Boy Scouts.
Now that he is firmly ensconced in the Department of the Interior, his horse grazing the landscaping outside, it seems as good a time as any to look back on Commander Zinke's career in the House. He represented Montana for only two years, but he did it with aplomb.
Zinke was sworn into office on Jan. 3, 2015. Like any congressional freshman, he took some time to get his footing, but within a few months he was fighting for the interests of the people who sent him to Washington. In April of that year, he sent a letter to the Department of the Interior urging it to postpone raising the rates for mineral leases on public lands.
It turned out to be a lightly rephrased version of a form letter provided by Cloud Peak Energy, a coal mining corporation. Also during this time, Zinke sponsored two bills that would have extended the deadlines to begin construction of hydroelectric dams. Although neither passed, they solidified his reputation as a congressman who would fight for Montanans' interest in postponing things.
- photo courtesy Gage Skidmore
In June, Zinke gave an exclusive interview to Breitbart News in which he warned that President Obama could not be trusted to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement in America's best interest. For use with the story, he provided Breitbart with a photo of himself taken 15 years earlier, in flak jacket and camouflage, with a full head of hair. Around this time, rumors began to circulate that Zinke had served in the armed forces in some capacity.
Later that summer, he joined Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa, to sponsor the Stop Birth Tourism Act, which would have required foreign women applying for visas to the United States to prove they were not pregnant by submitting to gynecological examinations. This bill did not pass, disappointing Montana's vocal population of racist perverts.
In December, Zinke criticized President Obama for attending the Paris Climate Summit, arguing that international agreements to slow global warming would do nothing to address the threat of Islamic terrorism. A few weeks later, he levied the same criticism against Obama's plan to require background checks at gun shows. Fortunately for the mails, Zinke dropped this all-purpose argument before he could use it against the post office. He did not sponsor or co-sponsor any successful legislation during this time.
In February, he introduced the Draft American Daughters Act, a bill that would have required women to register for the draft. Zinke made it clear that he had proposed the DAD Act as satire, to express his opposition to opening combat specializations to women in the military, and that he would vote against it should it reach the House floor. It didn't. Also during this time, he tweeted a photograph of himself on a motorcycle wearing a T-shirt that said "freedom," apparently not satirically.
Zinke did not sponsor any successful legislation for the remainder of 2016. In his defense, though, he had to get ready for the election, in which he defeated Democrat Denise Juneau. Not long after, President Trump nominated him as Secretary of the Interior, and Rep. Zinke stopped voting almost entirely. Between his nomination and Feb. 21, he missed 80 of 99 House votes.
Thus did Zinke's service to the people of Montana come to an end. Although he didn't introduce any bills that became law, he looked out for our interests, mostly by wearing cowboy hats and never, ever joining ISIS. Now his seat in the House is vacant, to be filled by special election in May. Until then, things will be about the same.
Dan Brooks writes about people, politics, culture and public service at combatblog.net.