GILLETTE, Wyo. – Retired Sen. Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican known as a consensus-builder in an increasingly polarized Washington, has died after he broke his neck in a bicycle accident. He was 77.
Enzi died peacefully Monday surrounded by family and friends, former spokesman Max D’Onofrio said. He had been hospitalized with a broken neck and ribs for three days following a bicycle accident near Gillette. He was stabilized before being flown to a hospital in Colorado but remained unconscious, D’Onofrio said.
Enzi fell near his home about 8:30 p.m. Friday, family friend John Daly said. Around the same time, Gillette police received a report of a man lying unresponsive on a road near a bike.
Police have seen no indication that anybody else was nearby or involved in the accident, Lt. Brent Wasson told the Gillette News Record.
A former shoe salesman first elected to the Senate in 1996, Enzi emphasized compromise over grandstanding and confrontation to get bills passed.
His “80-20 rule” called on colleagues to focus on the 80% of an issue where legislators tended to agree and discard the 20% where 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.”
Wyoming voters reelected Enzi by wide margins three times before he announced in 2019 that he would not seek a fifth term. Enzi was succeeded in the Senate in 2021 by Republican Cynthia Lummis, a former congresswoman and state treasurer.
“He was a giant and will be really missed by all of us,” Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming's congresswoman, said Tuesday on ABC's “Good Morning America.”
Enzi’s political career began at 30 when he was elected mayor of Gillette, a city at the heart of Wyoming’s then-booming coal mining industry. He was elected to the Wyoming House in 1986 and state Senate in 1991.
The retirement of Republican Sen. Alan Simpson opened the way for Enzi’s election to the Senate. Enzi beat John Barrasso in a nine-way Republican primary and then Democratic former Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan in the general election; Barrasso would be appointed to the Senate in 2007 after the death of Sen. Craig Thomas.
Enzi wielded quiet influence as the Senate slipped into partisan gridlock over the second half of his career there.
His more recent accomplishments included advancing legislation to enable sales taxes to be collected on internet sales crossing state lines. He played a major role in reforming the No Child Left Behind law that set performance standards for elementary, middle and high school students.
He fought for Wyoming as the top coal-mining state to receive payments through the federal Abandoned Mine Land program, which taxes coal operations to help reclaim abandoned mining properties.
Enzi sought to encourage business innovation by hosting an annual inventors conference. He also backed bills involving the U.S. Mint but his proposal to do away with the penny was unsuccessful.
“Former Senator Mike Enzi was a loving family man + dedicated public servant,” Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, said on Twitter. “Through decades of friendship & service, I was honored to learn from Mike. He cared about the future of our country in every way & kept a sharp eye on Congress’ fiscal responsibilities.”
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon in a statement ordered flags lowered to half-staff until sundown on the day of Enzi's interment, which hadn't been announced yet.
“Mike was a friend and a dedicated public servant who cared deeply about Wyoming and its people," Gordon said. “He was a strong advocate for the state’s interests and was always committed to finding consensus where possible.”
Enzi was born Feb. 1, 1944, in Bremerton, Washington. His family moved to Thermopolis soon after.
Enzi graduated from Sheridan High School in 1962 and from George Washington University with a degree in accounting in 1966. He received a master’s in retail marketing from the University of Denver in 1968.
He married Diana Buckley in 1969 and the couple moved to Gillette where they started a shoe store, NZ Shoes. They later opened two more NZ Shoes stores, in Sheridan and Miles City, Montana.
From 1985 to 1997, Enzi worked for Dunbar Well Service in Gillette, where he was an accounting manager, computer programmer and safety trainer.
Enzi served two four-year terms as mayor of Gillette. He served on the U.S. Department of Interior Coal Advisory Committee from 1976 to 1979.
His family expressed appreciation for the prayers and support they’ve received but asked for privacy, D’Onofrio said. The family is planning “a celebration of a life well-lived,” he said in a statement, and will share details later.
Enzi is survived by his wife; two daughters, Amy and Emily; a son, Brad; and several grandchildren.