Intelligent Discontent

12 Reasons Montanans Can’t–and Won’t–Elect Ryan Zinke to Congress


Well, as I suspected, Ryan Zinke will be the Republican nominee for the U.S. House race, in a scenario that’s about as good as it can get for John Lewis and Montana Democrats. Despite the advantage of a private Super PAC and its fundraising capacity, Zinke managed only to not lose the Republican primary, but leaves it a weakened candidate in a party split down the middle and deeply suspicious about his values and motives.

My guess is that Zinke will take about one week before trying to pivot back to being the moderate he described himself as until early 2014. Here’s hoping the Montana political media exposes this effort.

He can’t be trusted.

In the course of the Republican primary, the formerly pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-marijuana legalization, pro-union, pro-environment Zinke transformed into the snarling id of TEA Party Republicanism, calling for the impeachment of President Obama, identifying former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “the anti-Christ,” and embracing a reactionary set of policies he’d been critical of just months before. He’s the worst type of political opportunist, and the media owes it to the Montana electorate to expose his tendency to shift his political positions more often than he mentions he was a Navy SEAL.

That’s the primary reason Montana voters should reject Zinke, but the candidate has given a wealth of reasons why voters, Republican, Democrat, and Independent, will look elsewhere to cast their ballot in November.

He has an incoherent position on reproductive rights.

I can’t think of a better example of a candidate who is simply unwilling to take a position on the issue of reproductive rights than Senator Zinke. While he was in the Montana Legislature, he voted for reproductive rights, told the press he was pro-choice, and told Project Vote Smart he supported abortion rights through the first trimester. During his run for the Republican nomination, he asserted that he was “pro-life,” relying on the dubious endorsement of a lobbyist with no records and seeming to forget that he told the pro-life Concerned Women for America that he supported abortion rights for the first twenty weeks. In the inimitable words of Senator Kennedy, Zinke is not pro-life; he’s not pro-choice; he’s multiple choice.

He has an incoherent position on the Second Amendment.

During the Republican nomination fight, Zinke asserted that he was an ardent defender of the Second Amendment, supporting his claims not with actual votes, but with pictures of himself holding guns. The truth is that Zinke has the worst record on guns of any Republican candidate in a generation, with a 42% rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund and 57% from the NRA just in 2014. And his record bears this out: during his time in the Legislature, Zinke told Project Vote Smart he was undecided on background checks for gun sales and current Montana state law, positions that are a lot closer to mine than the the mainstream of Montana voters.

His links to the Special Operations for America Super PAC are unethical at best, illegal at worst.

Zinke’s farcically unethical association with the Special Operations for America Super PAC is already under FEC complaint, and as time passes, the evidence will only become clearer: Zinke used the organization for his political purposes and SOFA continued to work for Zinke during the campaign. It’s not just Mother Jones and liberal bloggers making those claims; even conservatives like Ken Miller and Rick Hill have raised concerns about Zinke’s involvement in SOFA. 

Perhaps most tellingly, a former ally (and member of Special Operations for America), Captain Larry Bailey, said that the organization was about promoting Zinke, rather than other Republican candidates.

Zinke used Special Operations for America as a personal piggy bank and lied about it

Senator Zinke not only paid himself thousands of dollars from the SOFA coffers, he paid his friends, too.  Former Congressman Hill again:

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.

Zinke claimed, when he went on Fox News, that he would not take any money from the organization, but collected over $26,000 from the organization in just one year.

His greatest asset as a candidate, his military record, is facing serious questions.

Zinke spent most of the Republican primary talking about his role as a Navy SEAL. While anyone who chooses a career path of  service to the nation should be commended, Zinke is facing serious charges about his behavior in the military and his tendency to overstate his resume once he left. 

Zinke has admitted the charges of misusing taxpayer funds, saying, “We trained hard, we ran hard, we were hard.” Given Zinke’s obsessive focus on his military record as a qualification for office, he owes the voters of Montana a full look at his military records, warts and all, just as Senator John Walsh has provided.

He’s embraced sexist views about the role of women in the military.

While American servicewomen have served bravely in combat roles all over Iraq and Afghanistan, Zinke, echoing the arguments of those who opposed African-American and gay soldiers in combat, argued that neither men nor women are ready for women to serve in combat roles. One has to wonder what other jobs Zinke thinks women are incapable of doing? Fighting fires? Stopping crime? 

He’s reliant on donations from questionable out-of-state donors.

Zinke’s primary campaign was funded largely through PACs and the interest of out of state businesses, including over $100,000 from the employees of a single company in Florida.

He supports the reactionary Ryan budget.

Zinke’s support for the Ryan budget means that his priorities are protecting the interests of his corporate donors in Florida rather than farmers, seniors, students, and families in Montana. The Ryan budget, you might recall, is so damaging to Montanans that even Dennis Rehberg rejected it. Through its combination of cuts to programs like Pell Grants, farm subsidies and health programs for the elderly and trillions of dollars of tax cuts for the elite rich, the Ryan budget would devastate middle and lower class families while adding $5 trillion to the federal deficit.

He betrayed his comrades in Navy SEAL Team Six, putting his own interests ahead of theirs when he outed them to local press.

This stands out as the most egregious ethical lapse in Mr. Zinke’s short career in the Montana political spotlight. Desperate to draw attention to himself in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zinke told multiple members of the Montana media that his former unit, Navy SEAL Team Six, was responsible for the raid. He even told Mike Dennison operational details about the mission, claiming special contacts in the SEAL community. Dennison later confirmed this in an interview with the Helena Vigilante.

Despite this, despite the fact that Zinke ran to the press to cover himself in unearned glory, he had the audacity to blame the Obama administrationfor leaking the name of the SEAL Team involved.

No one can question Commander Zinke’s service to his country as a member of the military, but that service does not give him license to unethically blame the President for his own sins.

He’s misused the insignia of the military in his campaign material repeatedly.

Despite clear Department of Defense guidelines, Zinke will not stop using the insignia of the Navy SEALS on his campaign material, selling out the integrity of the military for his own personal gain.

He chose to be the running mate of Neil Livingstone in 2012.

Zinke likes to talk about leadership and its importance. It’s less convenient for him to bring that up given his decision to run as second in command to Neil Livingstone in 2012. Livingstone’s not just a harmless Republican nut; he was affiliated with terrorist groups, claimed that he and Zinke had both water boarded people, and tried to help Moammar Qaddafi escape from Libya.

Montanans have a better choice in November, with a candidate who not only better reflects our values, but unlike Zinke, has values other than serving himself.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a sixteen 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. 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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