Ryan Zinke

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Ryan Zinke
Ryan Zinke official photo.jpg
52nd United States Secretary of the Interior
Assumed office
March 1, 2017
President Donald Trump
Preceded by Sally Jewell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Montana's at-large district
In office
January 3, 2015 – March 1, 2017
Preceded by Steve Daines
Succeeded by Vacant
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 2nd district
In office
January 2009 – January 2011
Preceded by Dan Weinberg
Succeeded by Dee Brown
Personal details
Born Ryan Keith Zinke
(1961-11-01) November 1, 1961 (age 55)
Bozeman, Montana, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lolita Hand
Children 3
Education University of Oregon (BS)
National University (MBA)
University of San Diego (MS)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1986–2008
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Commander
Unit Naval Special Warfare Development Group.jpg SEAL Team Six
SEAL Team One
Naval Special Warfare Center
Awards Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svg Bronze Star
Meritorious Service Medal ribbon.svg Meritorious Service Medal

Ryan Keith Zinke /ˈzɪŋki/ (born November 1, 1961) is an American politician who is currently the 52nd United States Secretary of the Interior, serving under the Trump administration. Zinke served as the U.S. representative for Montana's at-large congressional district from 2015 until 2017. From 2009 to 2011, he served as a member of the Montana Senate, representing the 2nd district.[1]

Zinke played college football at the University of Oregon and earned a BS degree in geology. He also has an MBA and an MS in global leadership. He was a US Navy SEAL, from 1986 until 2008 and retired with the rank of commander.[2]

Zinke was the first Navy SEAL to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.[3] He formerly served as a member on the Natural Resources Committee and the Armed Services Committee.[4] As a member of Congress, Zinke supported the use of ground troops in the Middle East to combat ISIL and opposed the Affordable Care Act, various environmental regulations, and the transfer of federal lands to individual states.

Then President-elect Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Zinke for the position of United States Secretary of the Interior on December 13, 2016. Zinke was confirmed on March 1, 2017, becoming the first Navy SEAL and the first Montanan since statehood to occupy a Cabinet position.[5][6]

Early life and education[edit]

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.[7][8] 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-12 under head coach Rich Brooks.[9][10]

Zinke earned a B.S. in geology in 1984.[11] 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.[11]

Military career[edit]

Zinke during his service in the U.S. Navy.

Zinke served as a U.S. Navy SEAL from 1985 to 2008, retiring at the rank of commander.[12] Zinke graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training class 136 in February 1986[2] 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 May 1991 to 1993.[9][13] 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, ground force commander, task force commander and current operations officer from 1996 to 1999.[9] 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 2004, Zinke was the deputy and acting commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula.[11]

In 2006, Zinke was selected to establish the Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command, serving as "Dean" of the graduate school until his retirement from active duty in 2008.[11] The graduate school had 250 educators, offering over 43 college level courses to over 2,500 students annually at 15 different locations world-wide.[14]

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.[15][16] Zinke acknowledged the error but maintains that the incident did not adversely affect his career.[15] His promotion from lieutenant commander to commander was approved the following year.[17]

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.[15] 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."[15]

Zinke was awarded two Bronze Stars for meritorious service in a combat zone,[15][18] four Meritorious Service Medals,[18] two Joint Service Commendation Medals, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals,[19] and an Army Commendation Medal.[19] Following his tours in Iraq, Zinke served "as the second-ranking officer (and briefly acting commander) of the main SEAL training center."[15] He retired from the Navy in 2008.[15][16]

Business ventures[edit]

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.[20]

Political career[edit]

Montana Senate[edit]

Zinke was elected to the Montana Senate in 2008, serving from 2009 to 2011, representing the city of Whitefish. When he served in the state senate, he "was widely seen as a moderate Republican" but subsequently drifted to the right.[21] Zinke was selected as chair of the Senate Education Committee and promoted technology in the classroom, rural access to education and local control over schools.[22] He also served on the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.[23] In his capacity as a Montana Senator, Zinke was also a member of the SEMA-supported State Automotive Enthusiast and Leadership Caucus, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers sharing an appreciation for automobiles.[24][25]

Global warming and clean energy[edit]

In 2008, Zinke stated that he "support[s] increased coal production for electrical generation and believe[s] it can and should be done with adequate environmental safeguards," and that he "believe[s] the use of alternate energy sources and clean coal is preferred over petroleum based fuels."[26] 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.[27]

2012 campaign for lieutenant governor[edit]

Zinke was the running mate of Montana gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone in the 2012 election.[28] The Livingstone/Zinke ticket finished fifth out of seven in the Republican primary with 12,038 votes (8.8% of the vote).[29]

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[30] and paid $28,258 to Continental Divide International, Zinke's company, for fundraising consulting.[31] Zinke announced he was resigning as Chairman of SOFA on September 30, 2013, with his friend, former Navy SEAL Gary Stubblefield taking his place.[30] 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.[32]

2014 House election[edit]

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.[33] 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.[34]

Criticism of Hillary Clinton[edit]

During the Republican primary, Zinke attracted attention for referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton as "the real enemy" and the "anti-Christ."[21][35] 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.[36]

Tenure in the House, 2015-2017[edit]

Zinke's official House photo

In Congress, Zinke supported the deployment of U.S. ground troops to combat ISIL, "abandoning" the Affordable Care Act, and cutting regulations.[21] He supported a Republican effort to repeal the estate tax.[37]


In 2015, Zinke voted for an amendment proposed by U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) that provided for the expansion of the use of digital learning through the establishment of a competitive grant program to implement and evaluate the results of technology-based learning practices.[38] The amendment passed 218-213.[39]

Environmental regulation[edit]

Zinke frequently voted in opposition to environmentalists on issues including coal extraction and oil and gas drilling.[40] He received a 4 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters.[41]

Climate change[edit]

He has vacillated on the issue of climate change.[42] 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."[42] 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."[42] During Senate confirmation hearings on his nomination as Interior Secretary, Zinke said that humans "influence" climate change, but did not acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change.[43]

Transfers of federal lands to states[edit]

Zinke broke with most Republicans on the issue of transfers of federal lands to the states, calling such proposals "extreme" and voting against them.[44] 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.[45]

Condemnation of anti-Semitic views[edit]

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.[46]

Committee assignments[edit]

2016 House election[edit]

Zinke ran unopposed in the Republican primary and faced Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau in the general election.[47] Zinke defeated Juneau with 56% of the vote.[48]

Secretary of the Interior[edit]

Zinke was named as then President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for United States Secretary of the Interior on December 13, 2016.[49] His nomination was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a 16-6 vote on January 31, 2017,[50] and he was confirmed by the Senate in a 68-31 vote on March 1.[51][52] Among the U.S Senators expressing support for Zinke's confirmation was Democratic Senator Jon Tester from Montana.[53] Zinke was sworn into office by Vice President Mike Pence on the same day.[54]

The day after his swearing-in, he rode a United States Park Police horse named Tonto several blocks to the entrance of the Department of Interior's Main Interior Building to his official welcoming ceremony.[55][56]

On his first full day in office, Zinke rescinded a last-minute action by the Obama administration that had barred the use of lead bullets and lead fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges, a regulation intended to avoid lead contamination of federal lands. The move was opposed by some environmental groups and praised by the National Rifle Association.[57]

Personal life[edit]

Zinke is married to Lolita Hand Zinke.[58][59] He has three adult children, Wolfgang, Konrad and Jennifer.[60] He splits his time between Washington, D.C.; Whitefish, Montana; and Santa Barbara, California, his wife's hometown.[60] Zinke is Lutheran.[61]

Electoral history[edit]

2014 Election for U.S. Representative of Montana's At-Large Congressional District
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ryan Zinke 203,871 55.41
Democratic John Lewis 148,690 40.41
Libertarian Mike Fellows 15,402 4.19
2016 Election for U.S. Representative of Montana's At-Large Congressional District [62]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ryan Zinke (inc.) 285,358 56.19
Democratic Denise Juneau 205,919 40.55
Libertarian Rick Breckenridge 16,554 3.26
Total votes 507,831 100%


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  61. ^ "Members of Congress: Religious Affiliations". Pew Research Center Religion & Public Life Project. January 5, 2015. 
  62. ^ "2016 General Election". Montana Secretary of State. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Steve Daines
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Montana's at-large congressional district

Political offices
Preceded by
Sally Jewell
United States Secretary of the Interior
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Jeff Sessions
as Attorney General
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of the Interior
Succeeded by
Sonny Perdue
as Secretary of Agriculture
United States presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Jeff Sessions
as Attorney General
8th in line
as Secretary of the Interior
Succeeded by
Sonny Perdue
as Secretary of Agriculture