I will be the first to admit that Ryan Zinke didn’t always have my unbridled support, but as my representative, first at the state and then the federal level, he had my respect, and as Montana’s first cabinet level official he also had my admiration. Politics aside, it’s hard not to root for the hometown boy and regardless of how you felt about his policies or his personality, unless you are in the camp of the dyed-in-the-wool haters, you wanted to see him succeed — for our country and as a representative of Montana.
I also admit that I am always a fan of the underdog; maybe it comes from my rural roots in a forever depressed pocket of Montana that produces hard men with dreams as big as the prairie they cultivate into life year after year. That we could coax life and a living out of this harsh landscape was a tribute to our tenacity and our hope in something bigger than ourselves, a belief that in our own small way, we became superheroes, while feeding our families and the world.
I identified with a superhero, Peter Parker (aka Spider Man). It could just as easily have been Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, or Bruce Banner; ordinary men that rose to power whenever the need arose to save an individual or the entire world.
Most small towns hang onto the coattails of anyone who has risen to some level of celebrity or notoriety, making their birth places and childhood homes into museums or tourist attractions. And if you attain even more renown, if your donation large enough, perhaps a campus building or a road might bear your name — not just to honor the individual but to give bragging rights to the town lucky enough to have produced them.
So it was for Ryan Zinke. I never met him until he was running for the U.S. House seat, but I did work with a man who grew up with him, swam on the high school swim team with him when they still practiced in Whitefish Lake. That was before he became a Navy Seal, a commander, and then a state representative. He was “the real deal” my colleague informed me. I distinctly remember my first introduction to Zinke. He was confident and self assured. He looked me in the eyes as we were introduced and as he pumped my hand in a firm and cordial handshake, he said, “We can fix this.”
And that was my hope for sending the hometown boy to Washington, and I heard him repeat the saying in total belief and confidence that what he said was true and attainable in several stump speeches afterward. “We can fix this.” Scandal, graft and corruption on both sides of the aisle, in every branch of our government needed the kind of overhaul only an average person could fix with hard work, common sense and the grit and honor of a soldier.
I don’t know if I ever believed Zinke could fix it, but I knew two things: I wanted to believe it, and there was no question that Ryan believed it. Republican, Democrat, independent, Libertarian, I don’t care where you align yourself, when someone has good intentions, a great background, and the backing to get into position, you just want to be at the station waving your flag and wishing him godspeed on the difficult journey ahead.
That was my hope when Ryan became Congressman Zinke and that was my continued hope when he was confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior. “We can fix this.” It surprises me that so many don’t seem to understand how someone like Donald Trump could become president. The list of personal failings, bad language, moral failures, questionable business deals, and everything else he may or may not be guilty of was irrelevant. Many people outside of the D.C. bubble elites clung to a hope that the only way “we can fix this” is with an outsider, an underdog, a superhero.
Sadly, the story of hometown Montana boy, Ryan Zinke’s departure has my ears ringing again with a new phrase,“We can't fix this!” At least not in Washington, D.C. I am not sorry for Zinke — he has already found a niche to put his energy into, but I am sorry for our country. I had really hoped for so much more, from everybody.
If we are going to get this right, if we are going to fix this, we must no longer look for a superhero but to our own sons and daughters. It must start as it always has in our local communities.