Sen. Pete Domenici dies; power broker in U.S. Senate for more than 30 years

The longest-serving senator in New Mexico’s history was the Albuquerque-born son of Italian immigrants who carried a consistent message of fiscal restraint from 1972 until leaving office in 2009.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former New Mexico Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a Republican who became a power broker in the Senate for his work on the federal budget and energy policy for more than 30 years, died Wednesday.

He was 85. Sen. Domenici died Wednesday at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, his son Pete Domenici Jr. said. The senator had undergone abdominal surgery in recent weeks.

Sen. Domenici announced in October 2007 that he wouldn’t seek a seventh Senate term because he had been diagnosed with an incurable brain disorder, frontotemporal lobar degeneration.

The Albuquerque-born son of Italian immigrants 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 Reagan, who wanted him to delay the budget process.

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Former Democratic Sen. Bennett Johnson of Louisiana described Sen. Domenici as “the consummate legislator.”

“He always knows his subject very, very well,” Bennett said. “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.”

He was the longest-serving senator in New Mexico’s history, and was remembered most for his unflagging support of the state’s national laboratories and military installations.

“I love the job too much,” Sen. 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 all three of the state’s congressmen give up their House seats to run for Senate. Elected to succeed him was Democratic Rep. Tom Udall, the son of Stewart Udall, a former Arizona congressman and Interior secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

During his time in the Senate, Sen. Domenici was a major player on national energy legislation.

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee beginning in 2003, it was his job to oversee the debate on a national energy policy, including decisions about oil and gas drilling, nuclear power and renewable energy.

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