MAs Enzi was never too big for his panties, nor too small for his shoes.
Instead, he suited the people of Wyoming, whom he served in the United States Senate for nearly a quarter of a century.
Enzi, who died on Monday July 26 at the age of 77 from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident, was not a typical senator. He hasn’t looked for famous columnists to deliver the self-important lofty commentary, nor to be “TV staple” on the networks Sunday news interview shows.
Unlike so many of his colleagues, he hasn’t looked in the mirror and seen a future president.
His path to the “World’s Most Exclusive Club” hasn’t been paved by wealth, and certainly not by a famous last name.
Mike was an Eagle Scout, and he took the Scout motto seriously: Be Prepared.
This is why his first stay in Washington did not come as a senator but as a student. Enzi received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from George Washington University in 1966, 30 years before being elected to the Senate. He then obtained an MBA from the University of Denver, where he focused on the study of retail marketing.
Then it is the return to Wyoming for Enzi, who capitalizes on the marketing he learned by courting and winning the hand of former Diana Buckley in 1969. That same year, the retail component of his education takes center stage, as he developed the small business started by his father.
Mike and Diana opened NZ Shoes in Gillette, central Wyoming, in July 69, a month after their wedding. They would eventually open up additional locations in Sheridan and Miles City, MT.
For the Enzi family and the place they called their home, one word described the 1970s: growth. Mike and Diana welcomed two daughters and a son, while Gillette doubled its population. The abundance of coal in the Powder River Basin fueled the city’s transition to a small town.
Mike’s transition to politics was prompted by Senator Alan Simpson, the man he would one day succeed in Washington. After hearing Enzi speak on community leadership at the Wyoming Jaycees convention, Simpson told Mike he should lead by example and run for office.
“The city you live in, Gillette, needs a mayor,” Simpson said emphatically.
After discussing it with Diana, Mike organized a campaign for mayor, winning the post in 1974 at the age of 29. He served two terms and told years later in an interview that the inexperience of young people was actually an asset.
“The advantage of young people is that they don’t know what cannot be done. They just go ahead and do it, ”recalls Enzi.
After eight years as mayor, Mike took a break from public life to focus on his family and business. He returned to politics in the late 1980s, representing Gillette and Campbell County first in State House and then in the State Senate in the early 1990s.
Alan Simpson retired from the US Senate in 1996; Enzi succeeded him. Mike’s closest race came in the GOP primary, where he edged future colleague John Barrasso by less than three percentage points; the general election was a breeze, as Enzi won with 54% of the votes cast.
Wyoming residents loved Mike because they sent him back to the Senate in three subsequent elections with over 70% of the vote.
What made Mike Enzi so effective? As a legislator, it was the “80-20 rule”. He found that about 20% of the issues were so partisan that no legislative recourse could be found. But that left 80% of the problems that could be fixed and eventually fixed.
A problem-solver at heart, Senator Enzi was first surprised and then pleased with the dossier work he and his team did for voters.
He put it this way in an interview earlier this year: “I went to legislate, and then I found out that our most important job is probably social work, where people have a problem with the federal government. Often times this can be fixed because there is not a lot of common sense in the federal government.
The good Lord blessed Mike Enzi with common sense in unusual amounts.
Wyoming was fortunate to have a shoe salesman turned senator.
Rest in peace, Mike.
JD Hayworth worked as a sports presenter at Channel 10, Phoenix from 1987 to 1994 and represented Arizona in Congress from 1995 to 2007.