Sept. 13 (UPI) — Pete Domenici, who was New Mexico’s U.S. senator for 36 years, died Wednesday in Albuquerque. He was 85.
The Republican died after complications from an abdominal surgery procedure, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
“He is out of pain and we all feel good about that,” his wife Nancy and his son Pete Domenici Jr. said in a statement. “We are grateful for all of the people who helped here at the hospital and elsewhere.”
Domenici served from 1973 to 2008 in the Senate — the longest tenure in New Mexico — and planned to run for a seventh term until his doctors diagnosed him with an incurable brain disorder, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, in 2007.
Domenici remained active as a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
“Like others in this chamber, I served with Sen. Domenici for many years,” Senate majority leader McConnell said on the Senate floor. “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 Senate offers its condolences to Senator Domenici’s family, especially his wife Nancy.”
His death was on the opening morning of his annual Domenici Public Policy Conference in Las Cruces.
Born Pietro Vichi Domenici in Albuquerque in 1932, he played minor league baseball as a pitcher, then was a school teacher, lawyer and chairman of the Albuquerque City Commission.
In the Senate, he was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee for 12 years and member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. He also pushed for national energy legislation.
“Pete served our state well in the U.S. Senate for nearly four decades,” said former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat who served with Domenici in the Senate for 26 years before retiring n 2013. “His public service did a great deal to benefit New Mexico and the nation.
“In the 26 years we served together in the Senate, there were many times when we were able to find common ground and forge bipartisan solutions to problems. Even on those occasions when we disagreed, I never doubted his commitment to do what he believed was best for New Mexico.”
The New Mexico Republican, who had a daughter with schizophrenia, pushed legislation for better health insurance coverage for people with mental disabilities. President George W. Bush signed the Mental Health Parity Act into law in 2008.
In 1988, George H.W. Bush considered Domenici a potential running mate on his presidential campaign.
Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat who took over Domenici’s seat in 2009, called him a “legend in New Mexico politics.
“And though he will be sorely missed, his impact will be felt in the state – and the nation – for generations to come,” he said in a post on Facebook. “While we sat on different sides of the political aisle, I admired Pete’s dedication to the well-being of all of New Mexico.”