President-elect Donald Trump announced Thursday he has selected Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., a former Navy SEAL who broke with the Republican platform over federal lands, to be the next interior secretary.
“As a former Navy SEAL, [Zinke] has incredible leadership skills and an attitude of doing whatever it takes to win,” Trump said in a statement, adding:
America is the most beautiful country in the world and he is going to help keep it that way with smart management of our federal lands. At the same time, my administration’s goal is to repeal bad regulations and use our natural resources to create jobs and wealth for the American people, and Ryan will explore every possibility for how we can safely and responsibly do that.
The Interior Department manages federal lands and Native American tribal policies. This would include drilling and mining on federal lands, expected to be key parts of a Trump administration energy policy.
“I will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits everyone for generations to come,” Zinke said in a statement. “Most important, our sovereign Indian nations and territories must have the respect and freedom they deserve. I look forward to making the Department of Interior and America great again.”
Zinke is a fairly new figure in national politics. Montana voters elected him to an at-large House seat during the Republican wave of 2014.
Trump praised Zinke’s record on “championing regulatory relief, forest management, responsible energy development, and public land issues”
“As someone who grew up in a logging and rail town and hiking in Glacier National Park, I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve Montana and America as secretary of interior,” Zinke said. “As inscribed in the stone archway of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana, I shall faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’”
After retiring from the Navy SEALs, he ran for the Montana state Senate in 2008 and won. In the state Legislature, he was chairman of the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee and served on the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.
In 2012, Montana Republican gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone selected Zinke as his running mate to serve as lieutenant governor. In his first statewide race, the Livingstone/Zinke team lost in a crowded Republican primary.
Two years later, Zinke rebounded to get elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the subcommittee on energy and mineral resources. He also serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where he also is a member of two subcommittees: one on seapower, the other on intelligence.
He was an advocate for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and has supported allowing hunters access to public lands. He introduced the Resilient Federal Forest Act in Congress that helped initiate reform for timber areas and preventing wildfires.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Zinke a “no-nonsense leader.”
“After hanging up the uniform, he decided to continue his service by representing the people of Montana in the House,” Ryan said in a statement. “As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, he has been an ardent supporter of all-of-the-above energy policies and responsible land management. And as a Westerner with close to one-third of his state owned by the federal government, he is intimately familiar with how Washington’s decisions affect people’s lives.
Break With GOP Platform
The GOP platform drafted before the Republican National Convention in July included a plank to transfer federal lands to states, which Zinke strongly disagreed with.
Zinke was so opposed to this idea of transferring federal lands to the state that he resigned as a convention delegate.
“What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting,” Zinke told the Billings Gazette at the time. “At this point, I think it’s better to show leadership.”
The 2016 Republican platform says:
Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power of influence to urge the transfer of those lands identified.
Zinke told the newspaper he doesn’t want to sell the lands, but wants better management.
“Quite frankly, most Republicans don’t agree with it and most Montanans don’t agree with it,” Zinke said about transferring federal lands to states. “What we do agree on is better management.”
Zinke’s record on conservation issues prompted the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a conservationist nonprofit, to express optimism in a statement from the group’s president, Whit Fosburgh.
“Zinke is someone we can work with,” Fosburgh said. “He’s shown the courage to buck his own party on the issue of selling or transferring public lands that provide 72 percent of Western sportsmen with access to great hunting and fishing. He’s a lifelong outdoorsman, who we’ve found to be receptive to sportsmen’s interests in Montana and [the District of Columbia]. We won’t agree with him on everything, but we think he’s someone who will listen and has the right instincts.”
Click here for more about his career as a Navy SEAL and his earlier comments on Donald Trump.
I’m not so sure about this guy and an endorsement (of sorts) from Paul Ryan isn’t necessarily a good thing. He seems more keen on hanging onto the federal lands instead of working with the farmers and ranchers who use or cross fed land. Not one mention of that, but yay for the hunters, who provide little compared to farmers and ranchers.
For someone from Montana, where the feds own 30 percent of the state, he doesn’t seem too concerned about federal overreach. History tells us how the feds ‘manage’ things, so when he talks about better management, that makes him yet more questionable.
For years, we’ve seen the stories about the feds taking over land that has been in families for generations, and without state intervention, the feds have the upper hand – our money – and always win.
I was hoping Trump would pick someone who wanted to settle those disputes, but it doesn’t sound like that’s on Zinke’s agenda. Again, we’ll have to wait and see, but I get the feeling Trump picked him with different goals in mind.