Senator Udall's Speech Memorializing Senator Domenici
Pietro Vichi Domenici was born to Italian immigrants in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1932. He was a grocer’s son, worked in his parents’ store, attended Catholic school. He graduated from our own University of New Mexico, pitched in college and on the Albuquerque Dukes’ farm team, and taught high school mathematics, went to law school and built a law practice. He got his start in politics on the Albuquerque City Commission, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1973, and became New Mexico’s longest serving senator.
He was a husband, father, and grandfather. He married Nancy Burke right out of law school, and his beautiful wife of 59 years was key to his long and successful career. She was a good friend of ours and we spent an hour with her in Albuquerque a little over a week ago, and she’s still very strong and focused as one would expect, as a mother and grandmother for her children and grandchildren.
Pete Domenici was a statesman. He worked across party lines to find pragmatic solutions for the American people.
New Mexicans will always remember him as one of the strongest fighters our state will ever know.
Senator Domenici and I belong to different political parties, and we didn’t always agree on things. But I always appreciated that he cared deeply about the issues and put the nation and New Mexico’s interests first, as he saw them.
I join all of New Mexico in thanking him, and mourning his passing.
Senator Domenici’s math skills and his beginnings in local government served him well during his 36 years in the Senate. Anyone who has served in city government knows the importance of a budget.
Sitting as chair or ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee for 22 years, he held the federal government to the same rigorous, logical standard. He mastered the complexities of the federal budget and served longer in a leadership position on that committee than any other senator.
He was a budget deficit hawk and a realist. He understood that supply side economics do not work -- that big tax cuts will not result in growth leading to a balanced budget. And he went up against his own party, and he went up against President Ronald Reagan on the same budget issue.
In the 1990’s, he worked with President Clinton to produce a budget surplus for fiscal year 1998 – the first surplus since 1969. His willingness to work with Democrats, his pragmatism, and his stature within his own party made it possible.
On the Budget Committee, he understood how to align New Mexico and national interests.
He recognized the potential our national labs – Los Alamos and Sandia – had for our state. And he understood their importance to the national interest. He championed their work for decades. Our labs provide thousands of good jobs in Central and Northern New Mexico, and the breadth and depth of their research and scientific contributions to our nation are nothing short of astonishing. Pete Domenici played a critical role in the labs’ development.
He also had a keen appreciation of the importance to New Mexico and the nation of our military bases. In 2005, Cannon Air Force Base in southern New Mexico was slated to close. This would have cost New Mexico lots of jobs and would have had a devastating impact on the overall economy of the state.
Senator Domenici, along with the entire delegation and Governor Richardson, worked to secure a different and critical mission for Cannon. Today, the 27th Special Operations Wing is going strong at Cannon. 6,000 men and women are employed, and rural Roosevelt and Curry Counties benefit from the base’s $500 million dollar economic impact.
Senator Domenici’s fingerprints are not only all over the Budget Committee, but over the Energy and Natural Resources Committee – which he chaired for four years in the early 2000’s -- and the Indian Affairs Committee – which I am fortunate to sit on today. He helped position the United States to be energy independent through the Energy Policy Acts of 2005 and 2007, and he was a strong advocate on behalf of Tribes -- working to advance Indian health care, resolve longstanding water rights disputes, protecting Native art from counterfeiting, and improving reservation roads.
My Uncle Mo talked a lot about the importance of being able to disagree without being disagreeable, and to work together when possible. Senator Domenici understood that -- while the delegation was divided by party -- it was united in its love for New Mexico. He knew that New Mexico would be stronger if everyone worked together. It’s partly thanks to him that our delegation continues a tradition of working together regardless of party.
Senator Domenici’s commitment to bipartisanship did not end in 2009 with his Senate tenure. He continued to try to find solutions that work for everyone as a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
And the Pete V. Domenici Institute for Public Policy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces carries on his tradition through scholarship. The Senator said, “It’s time for us to join together and take these [partisan] issues out of politics. The problems we face are so big, people from both sides need to sit down and say, ‘We can’t approach this the normal way.’ Some great leadership is needed.”
We could really use that commitment to bipartisanship in the Senate halls today.
Senator Domenici was in Washington many years, but he was never out of touch with everyday New Mexicans. Whether it was acequia repairs in the Española Valley, creating a port of entry at Santa Teresa, funding new fighter jets at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, establishing the Petroglyph National Monument, protecting Valles Caldera, forming the Hispanic Cultural Center and Museum in Albuquerque – Pete Domenici identified New Mexico’s needs and came up with solutions.
He and Nancy had a special passion for people who live with mental illness – borne from his own family’s experience. This was something that he and I talked a lot about, and that our two families share. He worked across the aisle for many years to achieve parity in insurance coverage between mental health care and medical services. Any family who experiences serious mental illness understands the two should be treated the same, and that adequate mental health care is absolutely necessary.
In 2008, Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. That federal law means that the millions of persons with mental illness and substance abuse disorders have better access to the care they really need.
Senator Domenici spoke passionately and personally about mental health. He also did so on immigration. His mother originally immigrated to the United State illegally. During World War II, she was taken in a raid aimed at “Italian sympathizers.” Those of us who were here during the immigration debates in 2006 remember his plainspoken and moving speech on the floor of the Senate:
He said, “I understand this whole idea of a household with a father who is American and a mother who is not, but they are living, working and getting ahead. I understand that they are just like every other family in America. There is nothing different. They have the same love, same hope, same will and same aspirations as those of us who were born here have.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Pete Domenici. My good friend. Son of Italian immigrant grocers. A great Senator. A great American. A great New Mexican.
Thank you, for your remarkable contributions. You leave an exceptional legacy for New Mexico and the nation.