When Ryan Zinke was nominated by President Donald Trump as secretary of Interior, the reaction among Montana’s senatorial delegation was full-throated bipartisan support.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, even introduced Zinke at his confirmation hearing.
While we are certain Tester had political and policy reservations about Zinke, he subverted them for what was seen as the good of Montana. It couldn’t help but be positive for a Western state to have one of its own in a position as important as the Interior leadership.
Now, our delegation is faced with a similar situation.
Missoula’s Tracy Stone-Manning, formerly director of the state Department of Environmental Quality and also formerly Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s chief of staff, has been nominated by President Joe Biden to direct the Bureau of Land Management.
Qualified? There is absolutely no question. (She’s far more directly qualified to lead BLM than was Zinke to take over Interior.)
Every stop in Stone-Manning’s remarkable career has applicability to this job.
She led the Clark Fork Coalition as it successfully advocated for a Superfund cleanup that included the removal of the Milltown Dam, created hundreds of jobs and transformed Missoula’s riparian environment.
In her positions in state government, she has led thousands of employees. She has balanced interests of diverse stakeholder groups on environmental issues. Libby’s Chas Vincent, a logger and a former Republican legislator, was quoted recently on National Public Radio: “Where I think she will excel is her ability and her experience in collaboration and listening to both sides of an issue and being able to come up with a solution that might not make everybody happy, but will suffice.”
She is now senior adviser for conservation and the head of the public lands team at the National Wildlife Federation, a respected and revered environmental organization.
So here’s the question: Will Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines subvert his political and policy differences with Stone-Manning and get behind an unassailably qualified Montana candidate?
Or will he continue to play the shrill, strident partisan role he has taken on this session, ever since fundraising off spurious allegations that Democrats were trying to “steal the election”?
We hope he is bigger than that.
Stone-Manning is far more qualified than the last BLM leader Daines supported — William Perry Pendley, the lawyer who advocated selling off federal lands.
Her confirmation would go far toward restoring professionalism to a politicized agency, and would clearly be both an honor and an advantage for Montana.
The Billings Gazette Editorial Board includes President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber, and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.