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Domenici makes final show

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By Carol A. Clark

SANTA FE — In his final appearance before a joint session of the Legislature Monday, retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., called for an end to partisan politics. “We are in danger of losing our ability to move forward as a nation because of destructive personality-driven partisan politics,” Domenici said. “Let me leave this warning with you: America’s democracy is in trouble unless we put aside the political extremes and work toward our common goals.”This will be one of many final acts this year for the six-term senator who, because of a regenerative brain disease, will leave office when his terms expires Dec. 31. The first time Domenici addressed a joint session was Feb. 23, 1973. “I’m struck by how much has changed and how much progress we’ve made – that has been the greatest part of my job,” he said.Domenici told the quiet House filled with state senators and representatives that his goal during the last 36 years has been to move New Mexico and the nation forward. “I know as well as you that no one person has any monopoly on perfection, neither does any party nor any philosophy, no matter how fervently held,” Domenici said. He touched on the major issues facing the country including education, health care, jobs and energy, and said those challenges can be met if the parties pull together.“I have always been willing to compromise in order to move three steps forward on our goals rather than stubbornly resist,” he said. “I don’t regard you as liberals or conservatives, but as fellow leaders trying to do your best. We must put aside these simplistic labels and the politics of character assassination that are too prominent today.”In discussing Los Alamos National Laboratory, Domenici said, “I think you know as your senior senator, I have fallen in love with nuclear power.” He described Sandia National Laboratories and LANL as having “very major knowledge and experience.”“Some think we need a fundamental change in our labs’ mission, but don’t make any mistake about it: Our labs are critical to our national security.”Domenici told the legislators that when he finishes his final term, he will be one of only 15 Americans in the history of the nation to serve six or more terms in the U.S. Senate.“It’s an end of an era,” Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson said following Domenici’s speech. “It’s a sad day. You know this is his last address to the Legislature. The man-made monumental contributions to the state. And he showed his class today, his bipartisanship, his honesty, his simplicity, his love for the state.”This year’s legislature appears to already have embraced Domenici’s concept of working together to get things done. Majority Floor Leader W. Ken Martinez, D-Cibola, McKinley and San Juan, and Minority Floor Leader Thomas Taylor, R-San Juan, each expressed optimism in interviews after Domenici’s talk at how the current session is progressing.“This session is all about appropriations and everything is moving well on the finance aspect,” Martinez said. “There are three other areas we’re focusing on: ethics laws, policy laws and health care.Regarding ethics law, legislators are working to create a better front end for the public at the Secretary of State’s office and to put appropriate caps on election financing. Martinez said the bill has the appropriate language and has passed the House and is in the Senate.Martinez authored the bill for interlock legislation and said it has already passed the House. The domestic violence bill also is moving very well, he said.Neither party leader expressed much hope for the health care bill. “As far as health care, that bill is a monster,” Martinez said. “It’s in its third committee, the judiciary committee now.”Martinez tells people worried about any bill passing to “just trust the process.”Taylor agreed, saying it’s important to note, with health care especially, that this has been a highly bi-partisan effort. “We’ve got people on both sides of the aisle working hard to find solutions,” he said.Taylor does not believe health care has a chance of passing in the current session. “It could be done in a 30-day session if we went into it with consensus,” Taylor said.Those working on the bill have learned a lot while researching the issue, he said, explaining the problem with the bill is its exorbitant cost and the fact that not a lot of work has been put on the providers side of the issue.“You have to have the doctors and nurses to provide the health care,” he said. “The infrastructure has to be in place.”The health care bill won’t pass this session, Taylor said, because the budget has already been passed. “There’s no money in it for that bill and we haven’t arrived at consensus,” he said. “There may be some type of framework for health care passed this session but that’s all.”Taylor voted in opposition to this year’s budget, saying he had a real problem incurring a budget with a spending increase of 6 percent when the state’s revenues are up only 2 percent.This year’s 30-day legislative session ends at noon Feb. 14. To track bills, access www.legis.state.nm.us.