Zinke in New York

From left, Lola Zinke, communications director Heather Swift, and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., arrive at Trump Tower in New York on Dec. 12, 2016.

There’s no place in American politics for pushing, shoving, punching or any type of physical assault. Increasingly divisive and vitriolic rhetoric is deplorable; offensive touching is absolutely unacceptable.

That’s why a front-page story from Washington, D.C., strikes us as particularly abhorrent: Heather Swift, the spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, reported to Capitol Police that a man pushed her as she was leaving a hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building on March 15. That man, Wilfred M. Stark, 49, of Falls Church, Virginia, works for American Bridge 21st Century, an organization that supports Democratic candidates,

In a statement Monday, Swift called the incident "terrifying."

The Associated Press first reported the alleged assault on Monday in a story noting that Swift said Stark had been removed from an elevator two days before the hearing room confrontation. Swift said Stark tried to force his way onto the elevator with Zinke and staff members.

According to AP reporter Matthew Daly, Swift issued a statement saying of Stark: “He’s a big guy. He came up behind me fast, aggressive and very physical.”

The police report said Stark “used his full body to push” Swift as she tried to leave the room.

Stark has been charged with simple assault and is scheduled for a hearing in D.C. Superior Court on March 30.

His employer told the AP that he “adamantly denies” the allegations.

Stark previously was convicted of disorderly conduct in connection with a disturbance in October during a parade in Fairfax County, Virginia. At the time, Stark was working for ShareBlue Media, an affiliate of American Bridge 21st Century, to videotape GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie.

The Superior Court will have to determine whether Stark is guilty in the March 15 case. Swift said she sought the charge to help obtain a “stay-away order.” We hope that the justice system will act to restrain anyone who pushes or otherwise assaults any government employee or elected official.

Swift and every other federal, state and local public servant deserve to be treated with respect. They deserve to be safe and to feel safe as they work for the public.

There may be other witnesses to the Stark-Swift incident. It occurred as a crowd, including Zinke, was leaving the hearing room. Hopefully, police have or will conduct a full investigation that brings all the pertinent facts to court.

Meanwhile, all political operatives, their employers and those candidates, political action committees and other players who contract for such surveillance services should take a hard look at their own practices. It’s past time to cool the rhetoric and be clear that no physical violence of any kind will be tolerated. Not just because it’s illegal; because it’s wrong and damaging to our open government of, by and for the people.

We hope Swift obtains the “stay-away” order she seeks.

Safer start in Montana

The Montana Highway Patrol’s weekly traffic fatality report was unusual this Monday: no fatal crashes had been reported anywhere in the state for the entire week. In the first 2 ½ months of 2018, MHP reported 19 deaths, compared to 29 in the same period of 2017 and 36 in 2016.

Unusually heavy snow in large areas of the state may have helped reduce the fatality count because people traveled less or were more careful on snow-packed roads.

The vast majority of Montana traffic deaths occur in the warmer months. Montanans drivers should be as cautious and alert in the summer as they have been this winter.

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