Rep.-elect Zinke ready to get to work

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Ryan Zinke gets a kiss from his wife Lola, after receiving word that he had won the race for U.S. House on Tuesday at Whitefish Lake Lodge in Whitefish.

In the less than two months before the 114th U.S. Congress convenes, Montana Representative-elect Ryan Zinke said he has a lot to get done. And he’s anxious to get started.

“It’s time to go to work,” Zinke said in a phone interview as he got off a plane in Seattle Thursday afternoon. “My wife and I will take a couple of days to be alone with family; then it’s off to D.C. and roll up the sleeves.”

Zinke, of Whitefish, outpaced Democratic challenger John Lewis and is the state’s first congressman ever elected from Flathead County.

“You’re in campaign mode for so long. Then you wake up in the morning and it’s humbling,” he said about his decisive win. “As the only representative from Montana, there’s a lot of responsibility to represent everyone. The real work is still ahead.”

Zinke said he will establish a staff office in the Flathead Valley.

“I’m taking the model [Rep. Steve] Daines had, with four field offices statewide, but the locations will be different,” Zinke said, adding that his main field office will be in Billings.

The highly decorated former SEAL Team Six commander and Navy veteran said many members of his campaign team were veterans and that will continue as he develops his staff.

“We’re going to continue to have a very veteran staff,” he said. “We’ll have every service represented in one capacity or another.”

He estimated he will have about 18 staff members, but said he needs to get briefed about how exactly his office and satellite offices will be set up.

“One of the reasons I’m going to D.C. is to verify what the budget is, how many full- and half-time staff people there will be.”

He wasted no time in sending a group to Libby this week to talk with community leaders about timber industry issues.

“Communities that have been hit hard, we want to push that as a top priority,” he said.

Zinke said he believes the huge wins for Republicans on Election Day weren’t so much an endorsement of that political party as it was a mandate for Congress as a whole to “head in the right direction.”

“Republicans have an opportunity to lead by example,” he said. “I want to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

“I’ve never looked at issues through a red lens or a blue lens — I look at them through a red, white, and blue lens,” he said in remarks Tuesday night. “We need to set politics aside and lead. Politics and partisan agendas have forced businesses to curtail growth and made it more difficult to achieve the American dream ... We need to get our economy back on track, rein in unnecessary government overreach and focus on becoming energy-independent.”

Zinke said his family will continue to operate Continental Divide International, a consulting business he was involved with. His role will be advisory from here on out. His family also has some land assets in the Flathead they will manage while he’s in Washington, D.C.

He will continue to serve on some nonprofit boards, such as the board for the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park he helped establish in Whitefish. He said he will resign from any corporate boards he was involved with.

As a state senator, Zinke offered assistance to the Montana Firearms Institute launched in the Flathead three years ago to help existing firearms businesses and establish a training program to bring educational institutions and firearms-related manufacturers together.

“I think I did my part,” he said, noting the growth of the firearms industry in the Flathead in recent years. “I tried to be the connector. As a congressman I’ll advocate for all businesses.”

Zinke did consulting work for Proof Research, a Columbia Falls area manufacturer of carbon-fiber gun barrels and stocks, and is a small-percentage stockholder in the company.

“I’ll still maintain stock in Proof because it’s a great company,” he said.

Zinke said he’s still marveling at the level of support he received during his hard-fought campaign.

“We had over 30,000 donors. That’s unprecedented, and so many were for $35 or less,” he commented. “That’s someone making a choice to fill up their gas tank or support this campaign.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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