If the Trump administration were not mired in day-to-day chaos, the escapades of former Montana congressman and now Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would be front page news almost daily.

Consider his travel faux pas, using a private charter to get from Las Vegas to Kalispell in 2017. The plane belonged to oil and gas executives who have a big stake in Interior Department federal land leasing policy. That flight came at a cost of more than $12,000 to taxpayers.

And then there was what appears to be a politically motivated reshuffling of senior professionals in the Interior Department – including Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk – with apparently little regard for the welfare of the natural resources those professionals are responsible for. Some in Congress are calling for an investigation into that.

And now we learn that a nonprofit foundation founded by Zinke and presided over by his wife has agreed to allow developers of a Montana hotel project – one financially backed by an oil-field service company Halliburton executive – to use some foundation-owned land adjacent to the project for a parking lot. And there could be possible financial benefit to Zinke if the deal goes through. Certainly, there will be yet another investigation.

Taken individually, each of these issues is disturbing. Taken together they suggest an arrogant abuse of power.

Zinke of course says he is innocent of any wrongdoing and has maintained that the media is raising issues where none exist.

There’s certainly a portion of the electorate who will believe that line of defense, but there is significant evidence of clear conflicts of interest at the expense of the people’s business. And no matter whether you support Zinke’s politics or his management of the Interior Department, we as a country should and must demand better.

After his stint in the Trump administration is over, Zinke is likely to be back here in Montana, and we won’t be surprised if he again runs for statewide office.

Memo to voters: Be taking notes on what’s going on now with Zinke in D.C.. And hang on to them.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.