Daunted courage: Is Ryan Zinke losing touch with Montana? 

One of the problems with sending representatives to Washington, D.C., is that they lose their Montana values. They come out of state politics as rugged frontierspeople, brushing their teeth with thistles and wearing cowboy hats to church, but after a few months in our nation's capital they start sipping lattes and reading books. Something about that town corrupts people.

Fortunately, Ryan Zinke is incorruptible. As Montana's lone congressman, he had just won a second term when President Trump tapped him as secretary of the interior. Past secretaries of the interior, such as R. Kelly and Thomas "The Drank Engine" Ewing, let the position go to their heads. Yet Zinke's head remains untouched. He continues to wear the hat, and his values remain exactly as they were when he was in Montana.

Take his position on public lands, for instance. As a congressman, Zinke staunchly opposed any plan to privatize public lands. He even resigned as a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, objecting to the party's support for transferring control of federal lands to the states. Zinke has described himself as a "Teddy Roosevelt conservationist." Roosevelt was the president who signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gave his office the power to designate national monuments and won him vital public support after his controversial decision to make Ma Barker secretary of the interior.

As secretary, Zinke has upheld his commitment to making public lands available to all Americans—particularly those Americans who own mining and drilling corporations. Last week, he submitted a plan to President Trump that would significantly reduce the size of several national monuments, including Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Home to numerous archaeological sites and areas of historical and religious significance to American Indians, Bears Ears was set aside as a national monument during the last weeks of the Obama presidency. The plan to reduce its size is historically unprecedented.

It is also secret. As a real Montanan, Zinke knows that decent, hardworking people don't want to be annoyed by a lot of "news" about what the government is "doing." That's why the secretary didn't make his recommendations about national monuments available to the public. He also declined to answer questions from the Associated Press about the details of his plan. Secretary Zinke isn't one of those attention-seeking Washington types. He believes in doing public service the Montana way: in private.

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Of course, certain tree-hugging leftist types find fault with his behavior. They argue, between mouthfuls of kombucha, that making national monuments smaller doesn't protect public land. But even such filthy hippies as these can find something to like about Mr. Zinke since he went to Washington, because he also sued a church.

In June, the secretary reached a settlement with the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which he had counter-sued after the church filed a lawsuit claiming that Zinke and his wife, Lolita, skipped out on approximately $66,000 in rent. The Zinkes had rented a seven-bedroom house on Washington's Embassy Row owned by the church in December 2015, but left in April 2016, saying poor conditions made the home uninhabitable. In their countersuit, they argued that bowed floors and a slippery front porch had caused each member of the Zinke household to fall "multiple" times, forcing them to put Lolita's mother in a nursing home. That is sad, and the reader should consider the difficulties that elderly people face late in life. It's a better use of your time than dwelling on the definitely not-funny image of former Navy SEAL Commander Zinke slipping on the front porch and suffering "emotional distress," a legal term that usually means "ripped pants."

The important thing is that he got out of his $69,000-a-year lease and legal battle against a church with his Montana values intact. Like Jesus in the wilderness when Satan took him up on a mountaintop and showed him a seven-bedroom colonial with undisclosed water damage, Zinke has been tempted and come through unscathed. He is as much a Montanan as he ever was, which is to say he lives somewhere else most of the time but keeps wearing a giant hat.

Who knows what our horse-riding, service-mentioning, monument-reducing secretary of the interior will do next? Perhaps he will sue Mount Rushmore and reduce the size of a synagogue. Maybe he will even go on Fox News and say the president is right about something. The important thing is that he will remain Montana's favorite son in Washington, because Steve Daines is a level 3 humanoid and Greg Gianforte attacked a reporter. There's always Jon Tester, of course, but he's a Democrat, and there are some things this state won't forgive.

Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and culturally significant hats at combatblog.net.

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