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 over more than 30 years, died Wednesday.
He was 85. Domenici died Wednesday morning at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, Pete Domenici Jr., said. The senator had undergone abdominal surgery in recent weeks.
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 Ronald Reagan, who wanted him to delay the budget process.
Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bennett Johnson of Louisiana described Domenici as "the consummate legislator."
"He always knows his subject very, very well," Bennett said previously. "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," 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. The one 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, 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 part of the debate on a national energy policy, including decisions about oil and gas drilling, nuclear power and renewable energy.
Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, said Wednesday that he was proud to have served with Domenici at a time when there was more willingness to put partisanship aside.
"Pete served our state very well in the U.S. Senate for nearly four decades and did a great deal to benefit New Mexico and the nation," Bingaman said. "During the 26 years that we served together in the Senate, we disagreed on issues but also found common ground and forged bipartisan solutions to many problems."
Late in his career, Domenici was linked to the ouster of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, one of nine federal prosecutors fired in a series of politically tinged dismissals in 2006. The Senate Ethics Committee found Domenici created an appearance of impropriety when he called Iglesias to inquire about the timing of corruption indictments.
However, no punishment was recommended. Domenici made headlines once again in 2013 when he acknowledged that he had a son out of wedlock in the 1970s. The saga shocked New Mexicans who viewed Domenici as a man of honesty and integrity during his six terms and 36 years in the Senate.
While his wife Nancy was raising their eight children, Domenici had an affair and child with Michelle Laxalt, the daughter of one of his Senate colleagues. Laxalt raised the child on her own, became a prominent lobbyist, Republican activist and political commentator. Their son went on to build an impressive resume himself — Adam Laxalt, a former Navy JAG, is now the Nevada attorney general.