U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) is officially Trump’s pick for Interior Secretary.
Yesterday, we reported Zinke had emerged as the frontrunner for the post, raising questions of what the state of Montana would do to replace Zinke if he accepted.
We can confirm now that Zinke has been formally nominated, according to the Billings Gazette:
“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,” said Rep. Zinke. “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.’ I will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits everyone for generations to come. 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. May God bless Montana, God bless America and God bless the troops who defend her.”
If approved by Congress, Zinke, 55, would become the highest ranking Montanan to serve in a presidential cabinet. He would also be the first Navy SEAL appointed to a cabinet post.
The nomination drew praise from several different Montanans who have worked with Zinke on National Parks, conservation, fossil fuels and issues affecting Indian Country.
“I think Mr. Zinke is a brilliant pick for secretary of the interior. Sure, he’s a Montana sportsman, but his college degrees in both geology and an MBA are perfect for the Department that manages both responsible development and public use of our Nation’s natural resources while protecting their natural and cultural values,” said Dave Mihalic, former superintendent Glacier National Park. “He knows and is unequivocal about federal management of our public lands, our treasured national parks, and wildlife refuges. And, his votes in Congress against his own party’s position on proposed federal land transfers and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund shows he can work across the aisle with Democrats on important conservation issues.”
Public lands emerged as a political tripwire in the 2016 Montana elections, in which Zinke and other Republican statewide candidates were accused by Democrats of wanting to transfer ownership of public lands to the states. Zinke successfully refuted those allegations.
In July, on the eve of the Republican National Convention to nominate Donald Trump, the congressman resigned as a delegate to the Republican nominating convention after the party’s platform committee endorsed transferring federal lands.
“What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting,” Zinke said at the time. “At this point, I think it’s better to show leadership.”
We also reported that if Zinke accepts and subsequently resigns from his House seat, Montana will need to hold a special election to fill that position, per the Gazette:
Zinke’s departure from the U.S. House would spark a scramble for a replacement. State law dictates that upon the resignation of a U.S. senator or representative, an interim representative would be appointed by the governor and that a special election be called to replace him or her within 85 to 100 days.
However, the Montana law, rewritten by the 2015 Legislature, is unconstitutional and won’t be followed. That was the conclusion Republicans and Democrats independently came to as they prepare to replace a U.S. representative for the first time in 47 years.
“The U.S. Constitution permits a senator to be appointed,” said Jeff Essmann, Montana GOP chairman. “The Constitution requires a House representative to be elected. That’s why it’s always been called the people’s House.”
Late Wednesday, Montana’s secretary of state, Democrat Linda McCullough, was reporting the same. Montana would ignore the portion of state law requiring an interim appointment.
Both Republicans and Democrats said they like their chances of winning a special election.
Per the Gazette, the Libertarian Party also qualifies for the ballot.
Currently, neither party has a candidate in mind. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, both parties would likely hold a special nominating convention. Although the Chronicle speculates Democrats could nominate Denise Juneau (who ran against Zinke in the 2016 election) and Republicans could nominate Greg Gianforte (who ran against Steve Bullock in the 2016 Montana gubernatorial race), the Gazette reports that Jueanu has been mum and Gianforte has been noncommittal:
“This is a great moment for Montana to have our own Ryan Zinke nominated to serve in President-elect Trump’s cabinet as Interior secretary,” Gianforte said in an email. “It’s an honor for our state. I’m hoping that Ryan sees a swift confirmation process. Susan and I have appreciated the many calls of support and encouragement we have received from folks urging me to run if indeed there is a vacancy in our U.S. House seat. But right now, like many other Montanans, I’m hoping for more snow, filling the freezer with my hunting efforts and getting ready to celebrate Christmas with my family.”
With Zinke on track for the Interior, Montana Democrats may feel a bit more relief over the upcoming 2018 Senate race, which will see incumbent senator Jon Tester (D-MT) square off in a likely challenging race. Zinke had previously mulled running against Tester.
Tester congratulated Zinke on the appointment in a statement yesterday, calling it a “high honor.”