Politics

Former Sen. Pete Domenici Dies at 85

New Mexico Republican served six terms in the Senate

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., talks with reporters after Senate luncheons in 2001. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Sen. Pete V. Domenici died Wednesday morning at age 85.

Domenici, a New Mexico Republican and leader of the Senate Budget and Energy and Natural Resources committees, as well a senior member of the Appropriations panel, retired at the beginning of 2009 after serving six terms.

“He is out of pain and we all feel good about that,” the Domenici family said in a statement to the Albuquerque Journal. “We are grateful for all of the people who helped here at the hospital and elsewhere.”

Domenici died at the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque after complications from abdominal surgery, the Journal reported.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the late senator “had a long and notable career, one that took him from pitching on the baseball diamond to teaching mathematics at an Albuquerque junior high school, from city politics to the U.S. Senate.”

Chief Justice Warren Burger with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., talking over a book at the Capitol Hill Reception for the New Washington Guide Book in 1975. (Photo by CQ Roll Call)
Chief Justice Warren Burger with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., talking over a book at the Capitol Hill Reception for the New Washington Guide Book in 1975. (Photo by CQ Roll Call)

“In fact, when he ran for Senate in 1972, Domenici became the first Republican elected from his home state in nearly four decades,” McConnell said. “By the time he retired, he did so as the longest-serving senator in New Mexico history.”

“Like others in this chamber, I served with Sen. Domenici for many years. I came to know him as smart, hard-working and dedicated — and a very strong advocate for his home state of New Mexico. We are all saddened by this news today,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor, announcing Domenici’s passing.

McConnell Honors Domenici on Senate Floor

Domenici commanded deep respect from colleagues throughout his four-decade Senate career that closed with his retirement at the end of the 110th Congress in 2008.

His committee assignments reflected years of high regard and influence in the GOP.

Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., speaking, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., House Budget Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, on July 20, 1997 at a GOP celebration on the House steps of the budget and tax agreement with the White House. (SCOTT J. FERRELL/CQ file photo)
Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., speaking, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., House Budget Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, on July 20, 1997 at a GOP celebration on the House steps of the budget and tax agreement with the White House. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than most in Congress, Domenici worked with a broad spectrum of lawmakers. He teamed with conservative Texas Republican Phil Gramm on Social Security legislation and with liberal Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone on mental health issues.

His own daughter’s struggles with schizophrenia encouraged him to lead a push to make health insurers treat mental illness like any other ailment. He made such legislation — which he advocated for a decade and which the Senate passed in September 2007 — a major goal before he retired.

He is survived by his wife Nancy; daughters Helen, Paula, Nanette, Nella, Clare and Lisa; three sons Peter, David and Adam; and numerous grandchildren. 

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