Around Missoula, Michael Punke has been best-known as an author of one novel, "The Revenant," and two books of nonfiction, "Fire and Brimstone" and "Last Stand."
Soon, he may be known around the world as the U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama nominated Punke, 44, to the leadership position at the world's most influential trade body, based in Geneva, Switzerland. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Punke would take on responsibility for managing trade litigation between the United States and other WTO member countries, and expanding the areas of commerce covered by international trade rules.
"I'm obviously extremely honored that President Obama has nominated me to this, and I look forward to trying to win Senate confirmation," said Punke.
A native of Wyoming, Punke earned his undergraduate degree in International Affairs from George Washington University. He then attended Cornell Law School, where he earned his J.D. with a specialization in International Legal Affairs; he also served as editor-in-chief of the Cornell International Law Journal.
Punke subsequently spent 14 years in government service and private practice in Washington, D.C. From 1991 to 1992, he served as International Trade Counsel to Sen. Max Baucus, then-chairman of the Finance Committee's International Trade Subcommittee.
Punke met his wife, Traci, while working in Baucus' office. From 1993 to 1995, he served at the White House as director for International Economic Affairs, with a joint appointment to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.
Six years ago, Punke moved to Missoula with Traci (a native of Livingston) and their two children, Sophie and Bo. He said the change of scenery was a choice born of "the closest thing we ever had to a prenuptial agreement: to raise our children in the West."
Since coming to Missoula, Michael has concentrated on writing, though he has continued to work as a consultant on international trade issues.
"It has been an incredibly valuable experience to learn more about international trade by living in Missoula the last six years," said Punke. "My perspective on trade issues is definitely different than when I moved here, and frankly that's a perspective I very much hope to bring if I'm lucky enough to be confirmed to this post. Living in a state like Montana, where international trade is so important, you see the issues daily - whether in timber or commodity export, and having seen that from this perspective is something very important to me."
Punke declined to elaborate on the process that led to his nomination, saying that it was a "long series of events." If confirmed, Punke and his family would move to Geneva, where he would work full time. The term of the U.S. ambassador to the WTO is solely determined by the president.
In a prepared statement, U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk - whose office oversees the position of ambassador to the WTO - said that Punke's diverse background was an important factor in his nomination, particularly as the WTO aims to complete an eight-year process of negotiations over new trade rules, known as the Doha Development Round.
"His breadth of experience and considerable leadership skills will ensure that the American people have their interests well represented in Geneva as we seek a balanced and ambitious conclusion to the Doha Round that will provide new economic opportunities for all," said Kirk.
In a separate prepared statement, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., praised Punke's appointment.
"I'm proud of this nomination because Michael is one of us," said Tester. "He's a hard-working Montanan who understands the needs of working folks, small businesses and family farms and ranches. Michael's expertise will do a lot of good for our country and for the future of trade."
Punke's nomination was one of two announced by President Obama on Thursday. He also named Barbara J. Bennett, a former executive at the parent company of the Discovery Channel, as his nominee for chief financial officer at the Environmental Protection Agency.
In making the joint announcement, Obama said, "The dedication and talent of these individuals will be tremendously valuable to my administration as we work to tackle our challenges at home and abroad, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years."