For someone who never planned on getting into politics, Sen. Mike Enzi has spent much of his life working for the people of Wyoming.
It’s not the path he expected. Growing up, Enzi enjoyed hiking and fishing in Yellowstone National Park and wanted to become a park ranger. The outdoors beckoned Enzi again later in life, while he was recovering from open-heart surgery in the mid ’90s.
Enzi recalls thinking in church one Sunday: “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.”
He says he then got this nudge: “I didn’t keep you alive to hunt and fish.”
While Wyomingites understand the appeal of spending more time outdoors, our state is better for the fact that Enzi chose a different route — one with fewer fishing trips and countless flights between Wyoming and Washington, D.C.
Drawing on his experience as the mayor of Gillette, a Wyoming state legislator and a shoe salesman, Enzi was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, replacing outgoing Sen. Al Simpson of Cody. Enzi went on to be reelected three times. But his many years in the Senate will soon come to an end, as the 75-year-old announced Saturday that he will not run again in 2020.
The longtime senator will be missed, both for his work in Washington and around the Cowboy State.
“My biggest job, as it turns out, is to solve individual problems people are having with the federal government,” Enzi said, adding that he and his staff have worked on some 14,000 such problems for Wyoming residents.
One of those issues involved helping a Northwest College student from Mexico who came to the U.S. as a young child and didn’t have American citizenship. The student eventually became a U.S. citizen and is now a successful businessman, something that “could have never happened if Sen. Enzi’s office hadn’t intervened,” said a speaker during the Women and Allies March in Cody earlier this year.
In an era of divisiveness, we appreciate Enzi’s efforts to find common ground in D.C. He often talks about his “80 percent rule,” where you focus on the 80 percent that can be agreed upon, instead of the 20 percent where you disagree.
Over the years, we haven’t always agreed with the senator, but we appreciate that he tried to focus on areas of consensus.
That approach led Enzi to find bipartisan support for his bills over the years.
“My first bill passed unanimously. The last bill — so far — passed unanimously,” the Republican said Saturday. “Most of my bills have 15 or less in opposition which is very bipartisan.”
We hope that Enzi will continue working across the aisle in his remaining year and a half in the Senate — and that other lawmakers will begin doing the same.
But that means they’ll have to put public service ahead of personal gain or the political spotlight. The truth is, bipartisanship work doesn’t draw much attention, especially in today’s society when bickering politicians dominate headlines.
By contrast, Enzi’s service has often been understated and his tone collegial.
An opinion piece in The Hill described Enzi as “a hard-working, no nonsense, substantive doer.”
“He is the opposite of the flamboyant model that is so in vogue today,” wrote Judd Gregg, a Republican and former U.S. senator, in the April column. “… we can all take some solace that in these cloudy days of excessive partisanship and declining good governance there is a Mike Enzi still trudging around the Senate.”
While he may soon be trudging through Wyoming’s streams and mountains, we can be thankful for the many years he has spent working on behalf of our state.