By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Zinke Talks Issues, Leadership Record

 


In a phone interview with the Courier on Oct. 31, Congressman Ryan Zinke reiterated his support for Northeastern Montana and his positions on key issues, particularly those weighing heaviest on Valley County voters. Zinke spoke on issues ranging from successes in the 114th Congress, “free-roaming” bison, healthcare and mental health resources, as well as veterans’ healthcare.

Among his successes in congress, Zinke emphasized the passing of a recent infrastructure bill, the installment of permanent tax relief for implement sales and purchases, opposition to the Waters of the United States Act, and support for a farm bill that would “protect family farms” and provide relief from death taxes.

Zinke also lamented the current political environment, commenting on the divisiveness in the current presidential election, and recent athlete protests during the National Anthem. Zinke said, “This election seems to have divided the country. The National Anthem is being politicized. Law enforcement is no longer respected across the country, and our government is not trusted by many. We need to come together as a country to solve our issues.”


Zinke also emphasized his ties to Eastern Montana, saying, “I spend way more time in the east than the west.”

On “free-roaming” bison, he restated his view that bison should be treated as livestock, and that large swathes of grazing bison are not only impractical but could be dangerous to the ecosystem. He referred to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, where bison have gone unmanaged for some time and now number in the multiple thousands. Zinke described the valley in the following terms: “The bison have wreaked havoc up there. I mean, it looks like Afghanistan.” He fears similar repercussions in Northeast Montana if bison are left unchecked. Zinke was also clearly sensitive to the impact bison have on ranching and reduced cattle production in Phillips and Valley Counties. “Unchecked bison cause damage,” said Zinke, “I think we’ve lost around 9,000 head of cattle production in Phillips County due to the APR [American Prairie Reserve].”

On the state of healthcare in small Montana cities and towns, he commented, “We’re not even rural; we are frontier medicine, and frontier medicine is different.” He stressed that there needs to be flexibility on the ground and not a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine in America. When asked if he was aware of the effects of Medicare reimbursement rates on rural nursing homes in Phillips and Valley County, Zinke emphasized that Medicare reimbursements for frontier care are low, but in areas like the Florida Panhandle, they are much higher, a fact which Zinke attributed to the formula used by the government to calculate rates. He cited this as one of the cases in which flexibility at the lower levels is needed to fix the problem.


Addressing mental health, Zinke said, “The mental health system has become the criminal justice system, because mental health can sometimes lead to criminal behavior.” He added, “We need to push flexibility and latitude to the front lines of healthcare to promote innovation.” He was not overly critical of the Veterans Health Administration, but he was critical of the wait times and bureaucratic obstacles to care. When asked about reputed visits to VA clinics across the state to follow up on Veterans issues, Zinke said, “That’s true. I try to check in on all our veterans […]. We’re not numbers. Every veteran has a face, every veteran has a service jacket, and every veteran has a medical record.”

 

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