Long­est serv­ing New Mex­ico se­na­tor leaves bi­par­ti­san le­gacy

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - OBITUARIES - ByRus­sel­lCon­tr­eras and Mor­ganLee

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.

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