He was simply the Boss in the office of the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in 2009 when I worked there. The first time we met was at a Monday staff meeting. The entire HELP staff was there along with video feeds from Wyoming, Senator Enzi’s home state. Promptly at 1 PM a man of average height and a little overweight wearing a plain black suit, white shirt, black tie and highly polished slip-on loafers walked into the room and stood right in front of me.
I rose from my seat, stuck out my hand and introduced myself. In a sea of faces, Senator Enzi recognized the new one right away.
Over the weeks that I served on the HELP Committee, I mostly saw him at hearings for the newly introduced Affordable Care Act which he opposed vehemently. He also wanted to bring tobacco under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (which happened) and he wanted amazingly tight controls over tobacco advertising and use by minors. He was left of Senator Kennedy on tobacco. His staff told me he had lost a relative to smoking-related lung cancer and was very sensitive on this issue. And that pretty much sums up Mike Enzi. He was honest, hard-working, a constant student and avid reader and, as The New York Times obituary suggests, enjoyed being a senator and serving the people of Wyoming. And make no mistake. Every vote he took was after the careful consideration of what that vote meant to his constituents. He visited those constituents constantly, flying out on Thursday afternoon and back on Monday like so many of the members from distant districts. When Liz Cheney sought to challenge Senator Enzi in a primary, she had no chance. Mike Enzi was Wyoming. His office was full of animals he had shot and fish he had caught. He was a great outdoorsman.
On a personal note, he was a quiet man, not given to bursts of emotion, but very bound to the concept of “regular order” in the Senate. He was highly respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle as I found out any time I told anyone in Washington who I was working for. The feedback was always positive.
Senator Enzi was only four years older than I. I am sure I was the oldest other person in the office. At social events I had no compunction about engaging him in light conversation. On one occasion his wife Diana made her famous peanut butter chocolate cake for his birthday and I found her to be a delight. She told me she ran the store (NZ Shoes) while “Mike did this other stuff.” These were very polished and knowing members of the DC community despite having been from the small town of Gillette, Wyoming.
Over the years many people have questioned me about the people who actually serve in the high offices of Washington. I did meet quite a few senators in my year there and I found most of them to be just like you and me. In that regard, even if our politics did not mesh, I found Senator Enzi to be the greatest gentleman I met in DC. It is tragic that he was killed in a bicycle accident in Gillette, but alas that is what happened.
It was my honor to serve under his leadership. I am not sure that I contributed all that much to any legislation or even any questions that he asked during a hearing, but the pleasure was all mine. Mike Enzi was a true mensch.