Interior Secretary Zinke insults Montanans

Oct 8, 2017 – Helena (MT) Independent Record

Former Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke reportedly remarked on September 25 to an American Petroleum Institute audience that 30 percent of the 70,000 employees at his Department of the Interior are “not loyal to the flag.” His remarks reveal a profound lack of knowledge of and respect for the important and honorable role played by Interior employees, who with their families live as residents in Montana contributing to local communities across the state.

There are hundreds of National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management facilities, plus Bureau of Indian Affairs and other Department of Interior agency facilities in Montana. Employees are professional, employing their training and talents to manage and protect the human and natural resources for which they are charged. The results of their work supports Montana’s industries bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into Montana communities.

Saying that over 30 percent of these employees are “not loyal to the flag” is ludicrous and deeply insulting. Anyone with political ambitions in Montana recognizes the significance of disrespecting these employees, retirees from these agencies, and their families. They are your neighbors down the street from you; their kids attend schools and play sports with your kids; they pay local taxes and buy groceries and supplies in your towns; they cast their votes alongside you. Interior employees are just like other Montanans—calling them disloyal tars all Montanans with the same brush.

The longstanding tradition of Interior employee commitment to their respective missions is highly desirable and should not be misinterpreted as disloyal to national interests. Also, many of these employees or retirees served in the military during the Korean, Viet Nam, Desert Storm or current Mid-east conflicts. They have proved their loyalty beyond any political measure, a fact that a former Navy Seal member should certainly value.

We hope the Secretary’s words were not simply partisan political pandering to an energy industry audience. Taken at face value, Zinke’s disrespectful and divisive comments reveal much about his leadership style, values, and lack of regard for the irreplaceable resources now increasingly vulnerable to his political zeal. He owes an apology to the employees he has disrespected. And he owes America, and Montana, a duty to uphold the diverse mission, nature and professionalism of the Department of Interior which is so woven into the fabric of our great Nation and the State of Montana.

Maureen Finnerty, Chair, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks