Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke fancies himself a bureaucratic cowboy. He sports a ridiculously large golden belt buckle. He wears a Stetson hat that looks too large — even for his enormous head. And he charters helicopters to make it in time for horseback riding lessons with Vice President Mike Pence.
More rodeo clown than administrative ranch hand, Zinke’s own branding has now made him a political liability. Politico reports that taxpayers paid $6,250 for the helicopter ride that made that morning on horseback possible. Just last summer, Zinke dropped more than $14,000 to buzz around the skies of the capital by helicopter.
Granted, that’s a drop in the proverbial bucket of deficit spending, something the Navy Seal turned Montana congressman turned cabinet member certainly understands. But helicopters are luxurious, and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has already warned administrative hotshots to cool it with chartering private aircraft.
“Every penny we spend comes from the taxpayer," Mulvaney wrote in a September memo after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price jet set around the nation on the taxpayer's tab. “We owe it to the taxpayer to work as hard managing that money wisely as the taxpayer must do to earn it in the first place." Looking past the simple letter of the law, Mulvaney continued, "put another way, just because something is legal doesn't make it right.”
Clearly, Zinke was unclear on that concept. No one can deny his environmental deregulation, accomplishments that conservatives always cheer. But Zinke has corralled himself into an untenable position.
When slapped on the wrist for chartering private planes to Las Vegas and the Caribbean, Zinke called it “a little B.S. over travel.” When questioned why he sold his campaign bus to an old colleague at a $25,000 discount, Zinke went underground. When a small company from his hometown received a fat $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico, Zinke said he had “absolutely nothing to do with it."
Awhile back, one magazine noted that Zinke was “ready for his close up.” Unfortunately for Zinke, the nation does not and never has cared for flashy secretaries of the Interior. If the cowboy wants to keep his job, he must ride away from the limelight. Otherwise, the nation will forever brand him a blowhard and buck him all the way back to Big Sky Country.