Former senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the onetime chairman of two Senate panels crucial to domestic policy, died Monday after suffering serious injuries in a bicycle accident. He was 77.
Enzi was riding his bicycle near his home in Gillette, Wyo., when he was injured Friday and flown to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colo.
Enzi “passed away peacefully today surrounded by his family,” a statement posted to his Twitter account late Monday said. His family said they plan to share details about a “celebration of a life well-lived” at a later time.
The genial, low-key conservative was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 after serving as mayor of Gillette and a member of the Wyoming legislature. He decided not to seek a fifth term in 2020.
Enzi’s gentle manner earned him respect and friendship as he chaired two committees: Budget and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
A fairly staunch conservative, Enzi had friends across the aisle and 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 Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
Ahead of the 2014 election, Enzi was believed to be considering retirement rather than a bid for a fourth term and, 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 the former vice president instead prompted Enzi’s anger and he aggressively countered her challenge, leading Cheney to bow out of the race 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, 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, Republican Sen. Al Simpson, who feasted off humor and enjoyed taking on politically fraught battles.
A strong defender of his home state’s oil and gas industry, he remained popular throughout his tenure, winning reelection three times with more than 70% of the vote.
In remarks in the Senate on Monday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said senators were praying for Enzi and his family.
“Mike’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle were sorry enough to see him depart the chamber and begin his well-earned next chapter just a few months ago,” McConnell said. “Mike and Diana were a fantastic Senate couple in every respect - from the major legislative accomplishments, to the generosity and kindness they showed to everyone from Senate staff to the pages.”
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.
During his Senate tenure, Enzi worked with Senate Democrats, including the late senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts on reauthorization of Head Start early education and college aid programs.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., who succeeded Enzi in the Senate in January, 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 told reporters Monday.
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The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.