Ryan Keith Zinke (born November 1, 1961) is an American Republican politician serving as U.S. Representative for Montana's at-large congressional district. From 2009 to 2011, he served as a member of the Montana Senate, representing Senate District 2.
Zinke played college football at the University of Oregon and earned a bachelor's degree in geology. He also has an MBA and MS. He was a Navy SEAL from 1986 until 2008, and retired with the rank of Commander.
As a member of Congress, Zinke has supported the use of troops in the Middle East and has fought against the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulation.
President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Zinke for the position of Secretary of the Interior in his Cabinet.
Early life and education
Zinke was born in Bozeman, Montana and raised in Whitefish. He is the son of Jean Montana (Harlow) Petersen and Ray Dale Zinke, a plumber. He was a star athlete at Whitefish High School and accepted a football scholarship to the University of Oregon in Eugene; recruited as an outside linebacker, he switched to offense and was an undersized starting center for the Ducks of the Pac-10 under head coach Rich Brooks.
Zinke earned a B.S. in geology in 1984. Zinke later earned an M.B.A. from National University in 1993 and an M.S. in global leadership from the University of San Diego in 2003.
Zinke served as a U.S. Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008, retiring at the rank of commander. Zinke graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training class 136 in February 1986 and subsequently served with SEAL TEAM ONE from 1986 to 1988. His next assignment was as a First Phase Officer of BUD/S before serving with United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG) from 1991 to 1993. Zinke then served as a Plans officer for Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe (CINCUSNAVEUR) and served a second tour with NSWDG as team leader and operations officer from 1996 to 1999. From 1999 to 2001, Zinke served as executive officer (XO) for the Naval Special Warfare Unit Two and then as executive officer, Naval Special Warfare Center from 2001 to 2004.
In the late 1990s, Zinke paid back the Navy $211 after improperly billing the government for personal travel expenses. Zinke's former commanding officer, now-retired Vice Admiral Albert M. Calland III, stated that as a result, Zinke received a June 1999 Fitness Report that blocked him from being promoted to a commanding officer position, or to the rank of captain. Zinke acknowledged the error but maintains that the incident did not adversely affect his career.
Zinke's campaign website stated that he was "the deputy and acting commander" of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force–Arabian Peninsula and "led a force of more than 3,500 Special Operations personnel in Iraq" in 2004. Retired Major General Michael S. Repass, who was Zinke's superior in Iraq, told the New York Times that these claims "might be a stretch" but that Zinke “did a good job” and was “a competent guy."
Zinke was awarded two Bronze Stars for meritorious service in a combat zone, four Meritorious Service Medals, two Joint Service Commendation Medals, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, and an Army Commendation Medal. Following his tours in Iraq, Zinke served "as the second-ranking officer (and briefly acting commander) of the main SEAL training center." He retired from the Navy in 2008.
In 2005, Zinke formed Continental Divide International, a property management and business development consulting company. Zinke's family members are officers of the company. In 2009, he formed the consulting company On Point Montana. Zinke served on the board of the oil pipeline company QS Energy (formerly Save the World Air) from 2012 to 2015. In November 2014, Zinke announced that he would pass Continental Divide to his family while remaining in an advisory role.
Zinke was elected to the Montana Senate in 2008, serving from 2009 to 2011, representing Whitefish. When he served in the state Senate, he "was widely seen as a moderate Republican" but subsequently drifted to the right.
Global warming and clean energy
In 2010, Zinke signed a letter calling global warming "a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world" and stating that "the clean energy and climate challenge is America's new space race." The letter spoke of "catastrophic" costs and "unprecedented economic consequences" that would result from failing to act on climate change and asked President Obama and Nancy Pelosi (then-Speaker of the House) to champion sweeping clean-energy and climate legislation.
2012 campaign for lieutenant governor
Zinke was the running mate of Montana gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone in the 2012 election. The Livingstone/Zinke ticket finished fifth out of seven in the Republican primary with 12,038 votes (8.8% of the vote).
In 2012, Zinke founded the super PAC Special Operations for America (SOFA) to support Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. The political action committee raised over $100,000 and paid $28,258 to Continental Divide International, Zinke's company, for fundraising consulting. Zinke announced he was resigning as Chairman of SOFA on September 30, 2013, with his friend, former Navy SEAL Gary Stubblefield taking his place. While Zinke's financial disclosure report for 2014 listed him as the chairman of the super PAC, the super PAC had been making independent expenditures in support of Zinke's campaign since November 20, 2013. The arrangement drew comparisons to comedian Stephen Colbert's satirical PAC Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. In 2014, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission regarding coordination between Zinke's campaign and the super PAC.
2014 House election
In the spring of 2014, Zinke announced that he was running for Montana's at-large congressional district, a seat that became vacant when its then-incumbent Republican Steve Daines resigned in his successful U.S. Senate bid to replace outgoing Democratic U.S. Senator Max Baucus. Zinke won the five-way Republican primary with 43,766 votes (33.25%) and faced Libertarian Mike Fellows and Democrat John Lewis, a former State Director for Senator Baucus, in the general election. He won the general election with 56% of the vote out of over 200,000 votes cast in the statewide district.
Criticism of Hillary Clinton
During the Republican primary, Zinke attracted attention for referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton as "the real enemy" and the "anti-Christ." An issue that was raised in the primary race was abortion; Zinke touted his anti-abortion credentials and received the endorsement of the Montana Right to Life Association.
Tenure in the House, 2015-2016
In Congress, Zinke has supported the deployment of U.S. ground troops to combat ISIL, "abandoning" the Affordable Care Act, and cutting regulations. He supported a Republican effort to repeal the estate tax.
Zinke "frequently votes against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling" and received a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
He has vacillated on the issue of climate change. In 2010, while in the state Senate, Zinke was one of nearly 1,200 state legislators who signed a letter to President Obama and Congress calling for "comprehensive clean energy jobs and climate change legislation." Since 2010, however, Zinke has repeatedly expressed doubt about anthropogenic climate change; in an October 2014 debate, Zinke stated: "it's not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either." During Senate confirmation hearings on his nomination as Interior Secretary, Zinke admitted that humans "influence" climate change, but did not acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change.
Transfers of federal lands to states
Zinke broke with most Republicans on the issue of transfers of federal lands to the states, calling such proposals "extreme" and voting against them. In July 2016, Zinke withdrew as a delegate to the Republican nominating convention in protest of a plank in the party's draft platform which would require that "certain" public lands be transferred to state control. Zinke said that he endorses "better management of federal land" rather than transfer.
Condemnation of anti-Semitic views
Zinke condemned the "anti-Semitic views" held by neo-Nazis planning a march in support of Richard B. Spencer in Whitefish, Montana in January 2017.
- Committee on Armed Services
- Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces
- Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities
- Committee on Natural Resources
- Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
2016 House election
Zinke ran unopposed in the Republican primary and faced Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau in the general election. Zinke defeated Juneau with 56% of the vote.
Secretary of the Interior
Zinke was named as President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for United States Secretary of the Interior on December 13, 2016. His nomination was approved by a 16-6 vote from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 31, 2017.
|Republican||Ryan Zinke (inc.)||285,358||56.19|
Zinke is married to Lolita Charlotte (née Hand). They have three children. Zinke is Lutheran.