In an exchange hard to describe in words, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke responded to a question about defunding historical preservation of the Japanese-American confinement camps by saying, "Oh, Konnichiwa."
We say: Oh, no.
Zinke was responding to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who was questioning Zinke about the decision and said that her own grandfather had been in an internment camp.
Beyond being wildly insensitive and bizarrely inappropriate, Zinke's erratic behavior at the hearing was just another in a growing number of incidents which demonstrate his values are too much Washington, D.C., and not enough Montana.
Zinke should know what those confinement camps are all about. Heart Mountain is a constant and needed reminder of what happens when a country starts to suspect its own citizens. The U.S. government trammeled on the civil liberties of an entire group of people in the name of patriotism and defense. It seems like the entire Trump administration, Zinke especially, could use a field trip there.
Using the phrase roughly translated "Good afternoon," was simply bizarre, especially since it was still morning when he uttered it to Hanabusa.
We have no idea why Zinke made such a bumbling remark, other than it's a distraction to several other stories which have made national news lately, including quibbling about the details of his private travel, and being scolded by the White House because of ethics reports.
Traveling in lavish style, spending money frivolously and ethics investigations certainly aren't in line with Montana values which he so often talks about. We're the kind of place that debates whether the governor should use a plane in the fourth-largest state in the country. We have doors, we just know that they come less expensive than six figures. And we have a tradition of standing up to racial insensitivity, and that's why so many of Zinke's actions betray those values.
We'd also point out that when it comes to questions of Zinke's travel, it's nothing new to Montanans. It shouldn't surprise us that this issue has come up again. What's troubling is that Zinke hasn't seemed to learn his lesson, and now is just repeating the error on a larger, national stage.
Recall that Zinke was warned when he was with the Navy for improperly traveling back to the Treasure State.
As Interior secretary, he tried to contort his travel plans back to Kalispell from Las Vegas, gaming the system for his own personal agenda. Each of these mistakes, which range from offensive to ethically suspect, have been reported. And each should rightfully bring questions and scrutiny — the kind that Zinke probably isn't quite used to. But that's as it should be: Zinke is no longer a legislator from Montana or our lone representative in Congress. He is a sitting cabinet secretary.
Taken individually, they are embarrassing or troubling. But taken as a whole, they represent a disturbing pattern. We believe the Office of the Inspector General must continue to investigate these questionable travel expenses as well as allegations of lavish spending. We also believe that Zinke must apologize to Rep. Hannabusa, rather than trying to defend the inappropriate remark.
And that doesn't even touch the normal things he's said about the Interior, which include making it easier for wind farms to kill birds and blaming increasing national park fees on seniors and veterans.
Even though Zinke is a Montanan, he's not representing our values.