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Former Gillette mayor and US Sen. Mike Enzi dies

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Mike Enzi

Michael Bradley Enzi, who retired last year from the U.S. Senate after 24 years of service to the state of Wyoming, died on Monday at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colorado. He was 77.

The news of his death was announced on his U.S. Senate Twitter account at about 11:15 p.m. Monday. He had been hospitalized since about 8:30 p.m. Friday after he was found unconscious on Morningside Drive in Gillette after a serious bicycle accident near his longtime home.

The former Gillette mayor was taken to Campbell County Memorial hospital, then flown to a UCHealth hospital in Loveland, Colorado, via air ambulance, according to a Facebook post by his three children.

Enzi was reported to have sustained a broken neck and broken ribs from the accident.

Mike Enzi retires

Sen. Mike Enzi poses for a photo with his wife, Diana, in front of their home in Gillette in January. Mike says Diana played a massive role in making his tenure as a U.S. senator possible for 24 years.

It was from Gillette that he launched a political career that would span 42 years. Enzi was elected mayor of Gillette in 1975 at just 30 years old.

He was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 1986, and after five years of service, he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Wyoming Senate, where he served another five years. During that time, he served as the chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee.

Toward the end of his decade as a state legislator, Enzi had heart surgery. He said it felt like a good time for him to be getting out of public service, and certainly not the time to run for a U.S. Senate seat left open by Alan Simpson.

“I had been saying no, feeling sorry for myself,” Enzi once said. “In church, my wandering mind said, ‘I’ve put in lots of public service. I’ve had this heart problem. It’s about time that I got to hunt and fish.’”

But then he felt conflicted. Enzi said a voice told him, “I didn’t keep you alive to hunt and fish.”

It brought him to tears. Enzi, who was then working as an accountant for Dunbar Well Service, soon entered a U.S. Senate primary race with eight other Republicans, and in August 1996, he’d beat them all, including future U.S. Sen. John Barrasso who’d raised three times as much money ahead of the election.

He’d go on to win the general election handily, winning all but four of Wyoming’s 23 counties, making him the highest elected official ever from Campbell County.

Enzi announced his retirement in May 2019. He’d considered retiring in 2014 after his third term concluded. But that inner voice spoke up to him again and pulled him back.

In three different churches around the state of Wyoming on three consecutive Sundays, he said he heard similar messages.

“Three weeks in a row, the sermon was the same,” Enzi said. “The word ‘retirement’ is not in the Bible.”

But after running and winning again in 2014, Enzi said those inner voices were quiet as he neared the end of that term.

Sen. Mike Enzi farewell

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, delivers his farewell address from the floor of the U.S. Senate on Dec. 2, 2020. The former Gillette mayor and Wyoming state lawmaker retired from politics in January after serving 24 years in the Senate.

“This time, no messages,” Enzi said. “It’s time to leave. I’ve always had a lot of things I want to get done, but the capability of doing them is changing.”

Enzi was born Feb. 1, 1944, in Bremerton, Washington, and attended school in Thermopolis until third grade, at which time his family moved to Sheridan. He was an Eagle Scout and graduated from Sheridan High School in 1962. He served six years in the Wyoming Air National Guard.

After earning an undergraduate degree in accounting from George Washington University in 1966 and a master’s degree in retail marketing from the University of Denver in 1968, Enzi married Diana Buckley on June 7, 1969. A week later, the young couple moved to Gillette to open a shoe store called NZ Shoes.

Enzi served as the president of the Wyoming Jaycees, and it was during that time that then-Sen. Alan Simpson saw Enzi speak and encouraged him to get into politics.

“That town you live in, Gillette, needs a mayor,” Enzi recalled Simpson telling him.

Mike Enzi

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi talks with Gillette Mayor Louis Carter-King, left, and longtime supporter Marjorie Rainwater before announcing his retirement at Gillette City Hall in 2019.

His work as mayor in a rough-and-tumble boom town that lacked basic necessities earned him much admiration from Gillette residents. But Enzi never accepted the credit, instead shifting attention to others beside him who helped push projects to improve the city's water, sewer, electrical, garbage and street systems as well as its financial status.

“I give credit to the community that came together to accomplish great things for the town in a difficult time,” he said in an interview with the News Record in 2017. “Our slogan has been, ‘We don’t care where you are from, as long as you can get over it.’ In other words, tell us what would make the town better — and jump in and make it happen — but don’t tell us how where you came from was better.”

He realized he was young to consider being a mayor, but wasn't deterred.

“What I lacked in experience, I knew could be made up for in enthusiasm and determination. The big advantage young people have is they don’t know what can’t be done," he said. "That’s why I always like to surround myself with young people in my offices and in my life. While some are busy thinking it’s never been done before, we were busy coming up with a way to do it."

Mike Enzi

Mike Enzi laughs while telling a story as he opens a hearing at the Integrated Test Center north of Gillette in 2020.

He took lessons learned from his mayoral years with him to the state Legislature and then the U.S. Senate. He believed in working with others to find common ground so that legislation could get passed.

He called it the "80-20" rule in which he encouraged others to focus on the 80% of an issue on which they agreed and not on the 20% in which they didn’t.

“Nothing gets done when we’re just telling each other how wrong we are,” Enzi said in his farewell address to the Senate in 2020. “Just ask yourself: Has anyone ever really changed your opinion by getting in your face and yelling at you or saying to you how wrong you are? Usually that doesn’t change hearts or minds.”

Mike Enzi

Mike Enzi, left, and Steven Winberg, right, assistant secretary for fossil energy for the U.S. Department of Energy, talk with operators of the Dry Fork Station power plant at a federal energy meeting in 2019.

Reaction

The longtime politician’s death brought an outpouring of love and affection from friends and colleagues in statements and on social media.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis, who took over Enzi’s Senate seat, wrote, “Today, Wyoming mourns the loss of a giant.”

News of Enzi's death was making national headlines Tuesday morning and drew responses from his former colleagues in Congress, including U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who said he considered the Cowboy State's elder statesman a mentor.

"Wyoming and the nation have lost one of the most consequential public servants of our time," Barrasso said in a press release. "Whether he was serving as mayor of Gillette, in the Wyoming Legislature or the in the U.S. Senate, you could not have asked for a stronger champion for Wyoming and our country than Mike Enzi."

Barrasso said Enzi was a unique type of lawmaker in that he truly worked for compromise and collaboration between political parties. He also was a quiet example for the Wyoming congressional delegation, leading more by example than by words.

Mike Enzi

Jim Ford, operations manager for the Integrated Testing Center, and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, walk past the Dry Fork Station power plant and the prepared research pads at the ITC in August 2019.

"U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi was the trusted trail boss of Wyoming's congressional delegation," he said. "In his four terms in the U.S. Senate, Mike never wavered in his commitment to God, family or Wyoming."

That he had more than 100 bills signed into law by four U.S. presidents shows that "Mike was a problem solver through and through," Barrasso said. "Many (of the bills) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support."

Along with ordering U.S. and Wyoming flags be flown at half-staff, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said the state is "heartbroken by this terrible loss."

"Mike was a friend and a dedicated public servant who cared deeply about Wyoming and its people," Gordon said. "His leadership in the Senate was tireless and productive. He was a strong advocate for the state's interests and was always committed to finding consensus where possible. He understood what is important for America."

Former vice president Mike Pence called Enzi a “man of integrity and a dedicated public servant.”

Mike Enzi

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi speaks to a crowd of people at the dedication ceremony for the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center in Gillette when it opened in 2016. The assisted living facility replaced Pioneer Manor.

"Mike was an absolute giant in our state and his sudden loss just months after retiring from the U.S. Senate is difficult for all of us to accept," said. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney. "I had the privilege of working with Mike for four years in Congress. He was a mentor and teacher and you could be sure any event that included Mike would be better because of his intellect, his dedication, determination and wonderful dry sense of humor."

Cheney also called him "a straight-shooter, an honest broker and a soft-spoken but powerful advocate for the causes he cared deeply about." But she also noted his love of "Wyoming’s magnificent outdoors."

"He was a firm believer that a fly rod and a day on the river could fix just about anything," Cheney said.

Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan said he met Enzi as a volunteer on his 1996 senatorial campaign and was impressed.

"He was the epitome of grace in a business often filled with vitriol and hyperbole," Buchanan said. "He was understated, but effective. He listened more and talked less. In essence, he was a statesman that represented Wyoming well for 24 years in the U.S. Senate. The Wyoming political family will miss him greatly and he and his family are on our minds and in our prayers."

Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King said Enzi was a close family friend and that his legacy can be seen all over the city.

"Even though we are saddened by his loss, we need only look around us to see the positive impact he had on Gillette," she said. "It was during his tenure as mayor that Gillette began to thrive.

"The passage of the Optional 1% Sales Tax to improve our infrastructure and the construction of the first Madison pipeline were two of the most significant accomplishments of his time as mayor. He knew what was most important for a successful community and he knew how to make it happen."

She also said that Enzi will be remembered for "his civic-mindedness" and that "he was driven to improve our community from the moment he moved here."

Mike Enzi

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi speaks during an election party at Cam-plex Heritage Center in 2014.

Sen. John Tester from Montana wrote, “Every time I met Mike Enzi in the halls of the Senate, he greeted me with a ‘Hi, neighbor.’ Mike was a good man who served the people of Wyoming well.”

Sen. Tim Kaine from Virginia wrote, “So sorry to hear about the death of Mike Enzi. His low-key kindness made him distinct among Senate personalities.”

Sen. John Kennedy from Louisiana called him “an example of thoughtful kindness to everyone in the Senate.”

Sen. Mitt Romney from Utah wrote, “We would all do well to follow his example of treating others with respect and dignity.”

“His family expresses their deep appreciation for all of the prayers, support and concern,” said a statement that was posted by Enzi's senatorial Twitter account. “They now ask for privacy and continued prayers during this difficult time. The family is planning to hold a celebration of a life well-lived, with details to be shared later.”

Enzi is survived by his wife, Diana, and his three children, Brad, Amy and Emily.

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