With Rep. Ryan Zinke vacating his seat to join Trump’s administration as the next Secretary of Interior, the at-large Congressional seat he occupies will be open after January 20th, 2017, if and when he’s confirmed. There are six Montana lawmakers – both Republicans and Democrats – potentially vying for that seat. One of the potential candidates is 29-year-old Montana State Representative Daniel Zolnikov.
Zolnikov is currently serving his third term as State Representative for Montana’s 45th District. First elected in 2012, Zolnikov has risen to prominence in the state for his work on privacy issues and constitutional rights. According to his website, he has “successfully passed laws requiring government to get a warrant in order to access cellphone location information, protect reporters’ electronic communications from government intrusion, and give immunity from MIP laws to minors who seek emergency medical attention.” Recently, Zolnikov led the effort to bring Uber to Montana.
What best explains Daniel’s penchant for freedom-minded issues? He says it’s his family background. His father’s family fled Stalin-era Russia for Iran, where his dad was born. Zolnikov’s father then came to the U.S. as a political refugee.
Despite his libertarian accolades, Zolnikov’s voting record affirms he has sound cultural conservative views as well. He was recently awarded a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union and received a 90 percent rating from the Montana Family Foundation. Moreover, NARAL Montana and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana gave him 0 percent and 20 percent ratings, respectively. During the 2016 presidential primary cycle, he supported Rand Paul and later served on Ted Cruz’s Montana Leadership Team. He endorsed Gary Johnson following the primary. More notably, he has been honored as a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient for his work in Montana’s legislature.
This is a politician both libertarians and conservatives could get behind — especially on the national level.
The up-and-coming Millennial politician has yet to make a formal bid for the at-large Congressional seat, but was kind enough to allow The Resurgent to ask him some questions. Below is my interview with Mr. Zolnikov:
TR: Tell our readers more about your background and what led you to run for office in Montana.
DZ: I was interested in politics for numerous reasons. From an early age, I realized there were problems in the world (and country and state). I grew up in a rural town in Montana that had a very limited economy. To put it into perspective, a high school kid who showed up with a “new” car that was only five-years-old was considered spoiled. It was the life of having what was needed, not wanted. So when I learned about the government’s excessive spending in our government class, the massive amount of debt we had was incomprehensible to me. I seriously couldn’t (and still can’t) wrap my head around it! I was so awestruck by this excessive spending, my high-school term paper’s topic was on the national debt.
While sitting in this same high-school government class, I realized that winning a legislative seat was very possible. All I needed was the majority of the vote, and with only 50-60% turnout, winning an election was very possible if I knocked enough doors. Years later, this concept proved true.
I ran for office, not because I believed I knew more than other elected officials (most who are twice my age) but because I believed I could take bold stands and add a necessary perspective. In other words, I thought most politicians were spineless. Like most people, I am a very imperfect human being. Instead of acting like a facade, I wanted to be real, which included owning my flaws. Believe it or not, this viewpoint allowed me to actually make my politics and perspective relatable to voters, instead of pretending to be this.
I recently won my third election to Montana’s legislature. In the last five years, I have dedicated over one year of my life knocking on doors. I have worn out multiple pairs of shoes and have had thousands of conversations.
TR: There is great chatter surrounding you potentially running to fill Rep. Zinke’s seat . If you decide to run and do win, what issues will you promote on Capitol Hill? Will you join committees like the House Freedom Caucus and newly-restarted Second Amendment Caucus?
DZ: I believe our overspending is the largest long-term national security risk our country faces. It has taken decades of intense overspending to get us where we are today. It will take us decades of decreased spending to start paying off the debt. This will not be done without public support. In Congress, I would continuously identify and message our government’s insane spending methods and how ridiculously out-of-touch our federal executive branch is with the rest of the country.
Congress needs a cultural shift. I have worked extremely hard to be a positive person, and find the good in every situation. In some situations, the effort is futile, but overall it has been a leadership game changer. I believe this is completely necessary to find commonalities and actually achieve results (like cutting wasted spending and protecting our civil liberties).
I would most likely fit in with the liberty caucus and as a solid Second Amendment supporter, would identify with the Second Amendment Caucus as well. I would also like to be a liaison between the conservative leadership and the liberty caucus. I have seen too much infighting in Republican politics in Montana. All it leads to is bitter relationships and wasted resources. Our Congress can do better.
One way that our politicians are out of touch with the majority of voters is their salary. I would gladly only take the average U.S. wage of roughly $50,000 as a Congressman. I firmly believe in putting my money where my mouth is. I’m already known as a couch surfing legislator, so I would just bring this concept to the federal level.
TR: You’re a Millennial, liberty-minded politician who understands the issues and garners a lot of good attention. Politicians are traditionally old, stuffy, and boring–you’re clearly the opposite. How important is it to have irreverent politicians who are principled yet action-oriented?
DZ: I have had multiple conversations this week with people who are interested in running for office. The interest is there, the resources are not. Once people realize that someone as normal as me can do it, they stop asking if and start asking how. Empowering the people!
Another issue I continuously hear is how some people are worried about the skeletons in their closet. Sadly, a lot of folks don’t realize that we all have them! Someone who hasn’t done something stupid hasn’t lived. And most skeletons people are concerned about are actually minor.
TR: How can other young people get encouraged to run for office? Why should more young people be involved in the public policy/political process?
DZ: A diverse Congress better represents a diverse country. I love being a millennial with a passion-driven mentality. We literally think different than previous generations, and we want to see politics change. But we have to have candidates run for office to actually win seats so it is up to us to step up and run for local and statewide offices. Put your name in the hat and go knock on doors. You’d be surprised how few people actually run and how easy it is to stand out and get support by being younger.