“Mike Enzi died this morning,” a forlorn former Rep. Don Manzullo, R.-Ill, telephoned Newsmax early Tuesday morning to say, “He was riding his bicycle back home [Gillettte, Wyoming] and had an accident.”
Manzullo went on to recall how former four-term Republican Sen. Enzi (who was 77 when he died) became a close friend when they served in Congress. Enzi and his wife Diana often dined with Manzullo and wife Frieda at their respective homes in suburban Washington DC.
At the time of Enzi’s death, Manzullo was encouraging his Wyoming pal to follow in his footsteps and write his memoirs. As the Illinoisan recalled, “Mike had his papers piled up in categories and was ready to start writing.”
Even those who were not as close to Enzi and, in fact, differed sharply with his good-as-Goldwater conservatism volunteered how much they enjoyed working with the avuncular former shoe salesman from the Cowboy State.
As chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee from 2005-07, Enzi worked closely with its ranking Democrat Ted Kennedy, Mass. When Democrats won the majority in the Senate in ’06 and Kennedy assumed the gavel, the convivial relationship between the Massachusetts man and Enzi continued and grew stronger.
Fiercely committed to defeating Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 and to creating a more market-based health care system, Enzi nevertheless joined the “Gang of Six”—three senators from each party—to try to seek a compromise between Democrats and Republicans.
“My heart hurts over Senator Enzi’s passing as he was just beginning to enjoy his well-deserved retirement after decades of public service,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told reporters hours after the news of Enzi’s death, “My first dinner with Mike I thought would be brief because he was an accountant and seemed to be a man of few words, but we talked for hours and I discovered he was a thoughtful, deliberate, funny, and decent man and he became a good friend.”
Enzi completed his Senate career in 2020 as chairman of the Budget Committee, once again evincing strong applause from both sides of the aisle for his respectful treatment of all.
Michael Bradley Enzi liked to refer to himself as a shoe salesman, and growing up in Gillette, he learned the business at his father’s shoe store. But after earning his accounting degree from George Washington University and a master’s degree in retail marketing, he began taking over the business from his father. While serving in the National Guard (1967-73), he expanded “NZ Shoes” to new stores in Sheridan, Wyoming and Montana.
While serving as president of the Wyoming Junior of Commerce (Jaycees) in 1974, Enzi welcomed then-State Rep. and U.S. Sen.-to-be Alan Simpson as speaker at one of his meetings. The blunt-spoken Simpson told him someone needed to run for mayor of Gillette and urged Enzi to consider the race. He did, and after talking it over with his wife, he became a candidate and went on to unseat incumbent Mayor Cliff Davis.
Enzi would go on to serve in both the state House of Representatives and state Senate. When Sen. Simpson announced his retirement in 1996, Enzi leaped into the nine-candidate Republican primary. While he agreed with his leading opponents on most issues, Enzi differed from them in that he knew how to reach more voters.
After he spoke to a Lincoln Day dinner or some other evening event, Enzi and wife Diane got in their mobile home and traveled to the next stop. Up early the next morning and refreshed, he then spoke to a Kiwanis or Lions Club breakfast. Then it was on to another stop by motor home.
In a tight and hard-fought contest, Enzi edged out fellow Republican and orthopedic surgeon John Barrasso by 32 to 30 percent. More than a decade later, Barrasso would be appointed to the Cowboy State’s other Senate seat and the two old rivals worked well together.
Enzi’s good nature and friendliness aside, he did have a somewhat less-than-warm relationship with some fellow Wyoming Republicans — Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz. When Cheney first ran for the House in 1978, Enzi supported primary opponent and State Treasurer Ed Witzenburger. Cheney had served as White House Chief of Staff to President Gerald Ford, while Witzenbuger had been a supporter of Ford’s primary challenger Ronald Reagan.
Cheney won, but never forgot Enzi’s opposition. In 2014, he criticized the senator for depending too much on national political action committees for campaign funds rather than home state contributors.
That same year, Liz Cheney launched a campaign to deny Enzi renomination to a fourth term. But after most elected Republicans and party officials weighed in for the senator, she abandoned her candidacy. Four years later, she won the state’s lone U.S. House seat.
“The loss of Mike Enzi is a terrible loss,” said Diemer True, former Wyoming GOP chairman and state senator, “He was a gentle giant who will be remembered as a truly great legislator and a gentleman.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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