Longest serving New Mexico senator leaves bipartisan legacy
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. » Pete V. Domenici, the son of Italian immigrants who rose to become a power broker in the U.S. Senate, died Wednesday in NewMexico. The Republican was known for reaching across the partisan divide and his work on the federal budget and energy policy over a career that spanned more than 30 years.
Domeniciwas surrounded by family when he died at an Albuquerque hospital after suffering a setback following a recent surgery, his family said. He was 85.
The Albuquerque-born Domenici carried a consistent message of fiscal restraint from his first term in 1972 until leaving office in 2009 — regardless of which party was in power. He even refused once to buckle to President Ronald Reagan.
Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bennett Johnson of Louisiana described Domenici as “the consummate legislator.”
“He always knows his subject very, very well,” Bennett said previously. “He’s strong in his views, but not rigid in his approach to negotiations. He’s willing to give in when necessary, but he keeps his eye on the ultimate objective.”
New Mexico’s longestserving U.S. senator, Domenici was remembered most for his ability to reach across the aisle and for his unflagging support of the state’s military installations and national laboratories.
Domenici announced in October 2007 that he wouldn’t seek a seventh term because he had been diagnosed with an incurable brain disorder, frontotemporal lobar degeneration.
“I love the job too much,” Domenici said days before leaving the Senate. “I feel like I’d like to have the job tomorrow and the next day.”
His decision started a scramble that saw the state’s three congressmen give up their seats to run for the Senate. His successor was Democratic Rep. Tom Udall, the son of Stewart Udall, a former Arizona congressman and Interior secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
“While we sat on different sides of the political aisle, I admired Pete’s dedication to the well-being of all of New Mexico,” Sen. Udall said in a statement.
As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Domenici oversaw part of the debate on a national energy policy, including decisions about oil and gas drilling, nuclear power and renewable energy.
Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, said Wednesday that he was proud to have served with Domenici at a time when there was more willingness to put partisanship aside.
Following a moment of silence Wednesday at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, Republicans and Democrats — from Gov. Susana Martinez to legislative leaders — all said that Domenici was someone who put politics aside for the benefit of the people.
“He really forever changed the landscape of New Mexico economically, politically, on so many levels,” said GOP Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes of Albuquerque. “In today’s somewhat hyperpartisan world, we can really learn a lesson.”
Late in his career, Domenici was linked to the ouster of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, one of nine federal prosecutors fired in a series of politically tinged dismissals in 2006. The Senate Ethics Committee found Domenici created an appearance of impropriety when he called Iglesias to inquire about the timing of corruption indictments. However, no punishment was recommended.
Domenici made headlines again in 2013 when he acknowledged that he had a son out of wedlock in the 1970s. The saga shocked New Mexicans whoviewedhimas a man of honesty and integrity during his six terms and 36 years in the Senate. That son went on to build an impressive resume himself — Adam Laxalt is now the Nevada attorney general.
In 2004, Domenici cowrote a book, “ABrighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy,” on the benefits of a nuclear-powered future and how to get there. He long argued that the nation had an irrational fear that held back its ability to benefit from nuclear energy.
He also was dedicated to reining in the federal budget. His knowledge on the subject made him popular with the national press after Democrat Bill Clinton was elected partly on a platform of trimming the bulging deficit.