GILLETTE, Wyo. — Retired senator Mike Enzi, a conservative Wyoming Republican known as a consensus-builder in an increasingly polarized Washington, died Monday after he broke his neck in a bicycle accident. He was 77.
Mr. Enzi 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, former spokesman Max D’Onofrio said.
Mr. Enzi fell near his home about 8:30 p.m. Friday, family friend John Daly said. Police have seen no indication that anybody else was nearby or involved in the accident, according to the Gillette News Record.
A former shoe salesman first elected to the Senate in 1996, Mr. Enzi emphasized compromise over grandstanding and confrontation to get bills passed.
His “80-20 rule” called on colleagues to focus on the 80 percent of an issue where legislators tended to agree and discard the 20 percent where they didn’t.
“Nothing gets done when we’re just telling each other how wrong we are,” Mr. 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 Mr. Enzi, a strong defender of his home state’s oil and gas industry, by wide margins three times before he announced in 2019 that he would not seek a fifth term. He was succeeded in the Senate in 2021 by Republican Cynthia Lummis, a former congresswoman and state treasurer.
Lummis recalled working with him in the state legislature.
“I always like to say in Wyoming, I’ve been following him around like a puppy dog, pretty much my whole life. So we’ve been very dear friends for many, many decades, and he’s a salt-of-the-earth, great guy,” Lummis said Monday.
Mr. 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 Senator Alan Simpson opened the way in 1996 for Mr. Enzi’s election to the Senate. Mr. 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 Senator Craig Thomas.
Mr. Enzi’s gentle manner earned him respect and friendship as he chaired two committees over his 24 years in the Senate: Budget and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
A fairly staunch conservative, he had friends across the aisle. During a prolonged summer and fall negotiation in 2009, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee tried to lure him into supporting what became the Affordable Care Act, a process that ended with no GOP support for the 2010 health law, President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
Ahead of the 2014 election, he was thought to be considering retirement rather than a bid for a fourth term. Without much warning, Liz Cheney jumped into the Senate race as a primary challenger in a move that roiled the waters of Wyoming’s close-knit Republican circles.
The daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney instead prompted Mr. Enzi’s anger and he aggressively countered her challenge, leading her to bow out and instead run successfully two years later for the state’s at-large seat in the House.
After Republicans won the Senate majority in the 2014 midterms, Mr. Enzi used his seniority to claim the Budget Committee gavel until his retirement. His amiable manner served as a sharp contrast to his Wyoming predecessor, Simpson, who feasted off humor and enjoyed taking on politically fraught battles.
In a statement Tuesday morning, Cheney mourned Mr. Enzi’s death.
“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,” she said. “Mike was a straight-shooter, an honest broker, and a soft-spoken but powerful advocate for the causes he cared deeply about.”
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, in remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, recalled Mr. Enzi’s humility.
“Mike was 77 years old and only about seven months into retirement. Our friend was blessed with a great American life, and he lived it well. Mike was hugely accomplished . . . but humble. He was powerful and influential . . . but earnest and deeply kind,” McConnell said. “He was ambitious . . . but on behalf of the people of Wyoming, not personal gain or glory.”
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, also in remarks on the Senate floor, remembered Mr. Enzi as a “kind and gentle man, as a practical legislator, someone who sought common ground and was willing to leave strained disagreements for another day.”
Mr. Enzi pushed a fiscal blueprint to balance the budget within 10 years, but his effort never prevailed amid government spending and the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts.
Earlier in his Senate tenure, Mr. Enzi worked with Senate Democrats, including the Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, on reauthorization of Head Start early education and college aid programs.
Michael Bradley Enzi was born Feb. 1, 1944, in Bremerton, Wash.. His family moved to Thermopolis, Wyo., soon after.
He graduated from George Washington University with a degree in accounting in 1966 and 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, Mont.
From 1985 to 1997, he worked for Dunbar Well Service in Gillette, where he was an accounting manager, computer programmer, and safety trainer.
He served two four-year terms as mayor of Gillette.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Enzi leaves two daughters, Amy and Emily; a son, Brad; and several grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be announced later, his family said in a statement.
Material from The Washington Post was used in this obituary.