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Pete Domenici
Pete Domenici.jpg
United States Senator
from New Mexico
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 2009
Preceded by Clinton P. Anderson
Succeeded by Tom Udall
Chair of the Senate Energy Committee
In office
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007
Preceded by Jeff Bingaman
Succeeded by Jeff Bingaman
Chair of the Senate Budget Committee
In office
January 3, 1995 – June 6, 2001
Preceded by Jim Sasser
Succeeded by Kent Conrad
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1987
Preceded by Fritz Hollings
Succeeded by Lawton Chiles
37th Mayor of Albuquerque
In office
October 1967 – March 1970
Preceded by Ralph Trigg
Succeeded by Charles E. Barnhart
Personal details
Pietro Vichi Domenici

(1932-05-07)May 7, 1932
Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
Died September 13, 2017(2017-09-13) (aged 85)
Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
Resting place Mount Calvary Cemetery
Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse Nancy Burk
Children 9, including Adam Laxalt
Education University of New Mexico (BA)
University of Denver (LLB)

Pietro Vichi "Pete" Domenici (May 7, 1932 – September 13, 2017) was an American attorney and politician who served as a United States Senator from New Mexico from 1973 to 2009. A member of the Republican Party, he served six terms in the Senate, making him the longest-tenured U.S. Senator in the state's history. To date, Domenici is the last Republican to be elected to the Senate from New Mexico. He was succeeded by Democratic U.S. Representative Tom Udall.

During Domenici's tenure in the Senate, he advocated waterway usage fees, nuclear power and related causes. Domenici chaired several key committees including the Senate Budget Committee and Senate Energy Committee.

Early years

Domenici was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Alda (née Vichi) and Cherubino Domenici, both of whom were born in Modena, Italy.

Growing up, Domenici worked in his father's grocery business after school. In 1950, he graduated from St. Mary's High School in Albuquerque. He spent two years at the College of St. Joseph on the Rio Grande before earning a degree in education at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque in 1954, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

After graduating, Domenici pitched one season for the Albuquerque Dukes, then a Class C Minor league baseball team. He also taught mathematics at Garfield Junior High in Albuquerque. Domenici earned his law degree at the University of Denver law school in 1958 and returned to practice law in Albuquerque.

Political career

In 1966, Domenici successfully ran for a position on the Albuquerque City Commission and in 1968 was elected Commission Chairman (a post equivalent to that of mayor).

Domenici was the Republican nominee for governor in the 1970 New Mexico gubernatorial race, which he lost to Democrat and former state House Speaker Bruce King. King won the election with 148,835 votes (51 percent) to Domenici's 134,640 (46 percent).

Senate career

In 1972, Domenici successfully ran for a position in the U.S. Senate and became the first New Mexico Republican to be elected to the position in 38 years. He was aided by Richard Nixon's landslide win over Democratic U.S. Senator George McGovern at the top of the ticket. Domenici polled 204,253 votes (54 percent) to 173,815 (46 percent) for Democratic nominee Jack Daniels, a Hobbs realtor.

Domenici was subsequently re-elected in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, and 2002 and is to date the longest-serving senator in his state's history, having served in the legislative body for 36 years. At the time of his retirement, he was the ranking member of the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. He was also a member of the U.S. Senate Committees on Appropriations and Indian Affairs, and served as Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Budget Committee. He advocated for the mentally ill, having pushed the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996.

Domenici voted in favor of the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (as well as to override President Reagan's veto). Domenici voted in favor of the nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1998, Domenici voted to convict President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial.

Water fees

One of the first issues that Domenici concerned himself with was waterway usage fees, in spite of his state lacking any waterway capable of commercial traffic - although it did have a prominent railway industry. The idea behind a waterway usage fee was that the Army Corps of Engineers built dams and other expensive waterway projects, which the barge industry was able to use for free. In 1977, Domenici set himself to the task of enacting a waterway usage fee. After a long two-year battle with stiff lobbying on both sides, the waterway fee was finally passed along with a new lock and dam project (the rebuilding of Lock and Dam 26 at Alton, Illinois). Reporters attributed the passage of this fee in no small part to Domenici's legislative skill. The legislation was signed into law in 1978.

The issue greatly assisted Domenici in his home state, where the railroad industry was a significant player (railroads competed with barges, and they had long wanted to end the "free ride" issue). The railroads donated $40,000 to Domenici's campaign, and the barge industry gave a small sum to his opponent. He was reelected in 1978 with 53.4% of the vote over Democratic nominee Toney Anaya, a former New Mexico Attorney General. The 6.8% victory margin would be Domenici's closest election in his Senate career.

Environmental record

The organization Republicans for Environmental Protection singled out Domenici as "Worst in the Senate in 2006" on environmental issues. In addition to assigning Domenici a score of zero for his environmental voting record, the group issued him "environmental harm demerits" for what they saw as two particularly irresponsible acts: first, for spearheading efforts to include in federal budget legislation provisions for "speculative revenues from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; second, "for sponsoring and securing passage of S. 3711, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which would perpetuate America's dangerous oil dependence, set a precedent for drilling in sensitive marine waters, and direct a disproportionate share of federal royalty revenues from a public resource to four states."

Domenici also received an exceptionally low environmental rating from the League of Conservation Voters, who claimed in 2003 that "[d]uring the last decade his voting record has become even more strikingly anti-environmental." The LCV went on to criticize Domenici for voting in 1995 "to allow mining companies to 'patent' (purchase) public lands in order to extract minerals from them, without environmental standards, for the ridiculously low 'price' of $5 an acre or less."

Nuclear power

President Meets with Seniors at Senior Center in New Mexico
Domenici and President George W. Bush visit with breakfast guests at Bear Canyon Senior Center in Albuquerque, March 2005
Sen. Pete Domenici (2524930433)
Domenici speaking at an Albuquerque Memorial Day event, May 2008

Domenici was an avid proponent of nuclear power and published two books on the subject: A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), which he wrote; and Advanced Nuclear Technologies — Hearing Before the Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate (Collingdale, Pennsylvania: Diane Publishing Company, 1999), which he edited.

Committee Assignments
  • Committee on Appropriations
    • Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Defense
    • Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development (Ranking Member)
    • Subcommittee on Homeland Security
    • Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
  • Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (Ranking Member)
    • Subcommittee on Energy (Ex Officio)
    • Subcommittee on National Parks (Ex Officio)
    • Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests (Ex Officio)
    • Subcommittee on Water and Power (Ex Officio)
  • Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
    • Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery
    • Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration
    • Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
    • Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security
  • Committee on the Budget
  • Committee on Indian Affairs

Electoral history

2002 New Mexico United States Senatorial Election

  • Pete Domenici (R) (inc.), 65%
  • Gloria Tristani (D), 35%

1996 New Mexico United States Senatorial Election

  • Pete Domenici (R) (inc.), 64%
  • Art Trujillo (D), 30%

1990 New Mexico United States Senatorial Election

  • Pete Domenici (R) (inc.), 72.9%
  • Tom R. Benavides (D), 27.1%

1984 New Mexico United States Senatorial Election

  • Pete Domenici (R) (inc.), 71.9%
  • Judith A. Pratt (D), 28.1%

1978 New Mexico United States Senatorial Election

  • Pete Domenici (R) (inc.), 53.4%
  • Toney Anaya (D), 46.6%

1972 New Mexico United States Senatorial Election

  • Pete Domenici (R), 54%
  • Jack Daniels (D), 46%

Life after politics

On October 4, 2007, Domenici announced his decision not to seek re-election to the Senate in 2008 for health reasons (specifically, frontotemporal lobar degeneration). His seat was won by Democrat Tom Udall.

After leaving the Senate, Domenici served as a senior fellow for the Bipartisan Policy Center. Domenici and former OMB director and CBO director Dr. Alice Rivlin chaired a Debt Reduction Task Force sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The task force was announced at a joint press conference on January 26, 2010, in Washington. The task force began its work in February 2010 and, led by Domenici, released a report on November 17, 2010 on ways to address and reduce the national debt and deficit.

The Domenici Institute, which aims to continue "Domenici's legacy of service to the state of New Mexico", bears his name.

Personal life

After graduating from law school in 1958, Domenici married Nancy Burk. Together, the Domenicis had two sons and six daughters (Lisa, Peter, Nella, Clare, David, Nanette, and twins Paula and Helen). One of his daughters has schizophrenia; this reportedly influenced his decision to become a strong supporter of legislation providing for parity in insurance coverage for mental illness. Helen ran unsuccessfully for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2018 as a Republican nominee in District 19, but did not win the general election.

During the 1970s, Domenici fathered a child, Adam Laxalt, with Michelle Laxalt, a Republican staffer and lobbyist and the daughter of Domenici's then-Senate colleague, Nevada Republican Paul Laxalt; this fact was kept secret until 2013. In 2013, Domenici, then 80, acknowledged the affair and his son, saying he was "very sorry" for his behavior. Adam Laxalt ran for Attorney General of Nevada in the 2014 election and defeated Democrat Ross Miller. Laxalt was the Republican nominee for Governor of Nevada in the 2018 election, losing to Steve Sisolak, and the Republican nominee for Senator in the 2022 midterms, losing to Catherine Cortez Masto.


Domenici died on September 13, 2017, at the age of 85, at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from complications that resulted from abdominal surgery. His funeral was held on the morning of September 16 in Albuquerque.

See also

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