Politics & Government

Trump’s Interior Department pick has some California family and fundraising roots

In this Oct. 20, 2016 photo, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke speaks with a supporter in Billings, Mont., during his re-election campaign.
In this Oct. 20, 2016 photo, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke speaks with a supporter in Billings, Mont., during his re-election campaign. AP

Coastal California has claims, of a sort, on Rep. Ryan Zinke, the Montana Republican named Thursday as the Trump administration’s pick to head the Interior Department.

The California connections, which also include Zinke’s notable fundraising success in the state, could give the former Navy SEAL a head-start in grasping some of the state’s complex federal land and water policies. Conceivably, they might also help shape decisions on everything from offshore drilling and San Joaquin Valley water deliveries to national park planning.

“I will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits everyone for generations to come,” Zinke said in a statement.

Married to a native of Santa Barbara, Zinke has spent enough time in the California city that it’s been used against him by his Democratic opponents. While in the Navy, Zinke and his wife owned a home in Imperial Beach.

Earlier this year, Zinke co-hosted at his in-law’s California home a fundraiser for fellow Republican Justin Fareed, who was running in the House district that spans San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Zinke, in turn, has raised a lot of his own money from Californians for his two House races. From the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Long Beach metropolitan areas, Zinke has reported raising about $221,000, records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show.

Other donors include the California Westside Farmers Political Action Committee, as well as individual farmers in Fresno, Madera and Merced counties, among others. The donor lineup, and Zinke’s conservative voting record, has already led Democrats and environmentalists to fear the worst.

“With Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke’s nomination to lead the Interior Department, President-elect Trump is signaling open season for corporations and private interests eager to lay waste to our public lands,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said Thursday in a prepared statement.

During his four years in the House, Zinke has been supportive of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which over the past five decades has provided more than $2.3 billion to California for work in areas including the Lake Tahoe Basin and the Headwaters Forest. He has been allied with hunting and fishing groups, and has opposed turning federal lands over to the states.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10