Flags fly at half-staff in Washington, D.C. this week as members of the House, Senate, and their staff mourn the sudden passing of United States Senator Michael B. Enzi, a four-term Republican from Gillette, Wyoming.
Senator Enzi was a gentle giant in the establishment wing of the Republican party – a quiet but effective lawmaker, demonstrated by the signing pens that literally covered his office walls. One of the last remaining true statesmen, Enzi was famous for his “80-20” rule – focus on the 80 percent most people can find agreement on and leave the rest alone – a motto that helped him secure a long list of bipartisan policy achievements.
As Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, the conservative Enzi worked extensively over the years with then-Senator Edward Kennedy, liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, to modernize important pension and labor laws, children’s healthcare, student loan programs, and K-12 education.
While wielding the gavel on the Senate Budget Committee, Enzi partnered with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a progressive Democrat, to draft The Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act, a collection of essential fixes for the broken federal budget process, endorsed by The Concord Coalition. Although the measure was never considered on the floor, it was reported out of the Budget Committee overwhelmingly (15-6), a major accomplishment for the notoriously partisan body.
As a former Enzi staffer, I can attest that the Senator had tremendous respect for his staff and they for him. In a political climate where ambition often led to high staff turnover, his aides were fiercely loyal and they routinely rejected outside opportunities to remain with Team Enzi. The office culture was divinely collegial where teamwork wasn’t just a buzzword, it was actively cultivated by the senator himself.
In eulogizing the press-shy Enzi on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Mike was hugely accomplished, but humble. He was powerful and influential, but earnest and deeply kind. He was ambitious, but on behalf of the people of Wyoming, not for personal gain or glory.” Truer words were never spoken.
Godspeed, Senator Enzi.