Sen. Domenici, a tireless advocate for LA County, dies

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By Tris DeRoma

Former Republican Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a six-term senator who was known for his work on budget and energy issues and support of the state’s national laboratories, died Wednesday. He was 85.


Domenici died at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, his son Pete Domenici Jr., said. The senator had undergone abdominal surgery in recent weeks.

When the late U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici first took office in 1972, Los Alamos County did not have its own fire department, and a large part of the land the county now owns belonged to the Department of Energy.

By the time he left office in early 2009, Los Alamos County had its own fire department and enough land that enabled the county to think seriously about its future, as far as its economic development and quality of life was concerned.

Los Alamos resident Veronica Rodriguez worked for Sen. Domenici for about 10 years. She joined his staff in 1998 and started work in his Washington D.C. office. By the time Domenici left office in 2009, Rodriguez was Domenici’s regional director for northern New Mexico.

Throughout the time she worked with him, Rodriguez said she saw firsthand the why and the how behind Domenici’s success when it came to his advocacy for the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the county.

“He would fly back to New Mexico, attend various events and meet with as many New Mexicans as he possibly could to see first hand what was going on in the state so he could see what he could do on the federal level to help,” Rodriguez said. “It was impressive to see such dedication. He was selfless and humble the way he went about his work.”

Domenici not only helped the Los Alamos National Laboratory, but he also helped Los Alamos County and the Los Alamos Public Schools.

Domenici brokered many land transfers previously held by the  Department of Energy to Los Alamos County that has made the county what it is today.

“Parcels included in this transfer were A-19 in White Rock, the Entrada, and parcels on DP Road, among others. This land transfer made the Smith’s Marketplace development possible because it allowed the schools and county to relocate their maintenance, transportation, and construction facilities to the Airport Basin site,” Rodriguez said.

In June, council sold the A-19 parcel to a developer who plans to sell lots for housing on the land. The council action was lauded by many as a move to help end Los Alamos’ housing shortage. 

The Entrada is now a business park that is home to a bio and science lab, a grocery store and a hotel franchise. In August, a local developer announced intentions of building housing in the park to support students and technicians that are working at the park. The lab at the park is called the New Mexico Consortium. The lab often conducts research with the consortium in conjunction with LANL and New Mexico’s three university systems.

As for Los Alamos Public Schools, Domenici sponsored the language in legislation that made an annual $8 million payment from the DOE to the schools possible. Los Alamos County is one of the few counties with DOE facilities that still receive DOE funding. 

Domenici also helped the LANL Foundation and the Regional Development Corporation, get started, two non-profit entities that provide educational and business opportunities to northern New Mexico residents.

Helping in a crisis

In the aftermath of the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire, Domenici made sure the hundreds of residents that were displaced by the fire received compensation from their insurers in a timely manner. He also made sure the county’s utility systems which were also damaged in the fire were repaired. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was able to quickly compensate the county and the  home insurers through a $455 million fund appropriated by congress for that purpose.

Former Los Alamos County Council member and candidate for state representative Sharon Stover remembered how Domenici helped usher through the legislation that led to the funding that helped Los Alamos County and its residents get back on its feet.

“We were in a unique situation, and he had the leadership and the capabilities to make sure Los Alamos was taken care of,” Stover said.  “He was a true friend and a great supporter for Los Alamos.”

Domenici’s work and advocacy for the Los Alamos Laboratory and other sites in the DOE will also be big part of his legacy.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan released a statement to the Monitor Wednesday about Domenici’s contributions to the lab.

“Beloved at Los Alamos for decades, no one has better understood and supported the essential and enduring national security mission of Los Alamos better than Senator Pete Domenici,” McMillan said. “His commitment and determination to ensuring a strong laboratory into the future is evidenced by his unwavering support for bringing cutting-edge supercomputing facilities to the laboratory and ensuring the laboratory possessed unsurpassed technical capabilities to counter threats to this country from abroad.

“Senator Domenici was also a passionate believer in the benefits of Big Science to our society, referring to our national laboratories as ‘crown jewels.’ He was instrumental in making use of our supercomputing for projects beyond national security, such as mapping the human genome.”

Domenici chaired the Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his time in the Senate. He was a staunch advocate of nuclear energy and pushed for legislation and federal money to support New Mexico’s national laboratories and military installations.

Domenici was a major advocate in national energy legislation and for the state’s national labs during his time in office.
In 2009, then Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman named a group of administrative buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory the Pete V. Domenici National Security Complex.

“Senator Domenici has been a strong advocate for the important work done across the DOE complex and particularly at Los Alamos National Laboratory,” said Bodman in 2009. “He realized that it was the people at the lab, selflessly serving our country, who made the lab what it is today. I appreciate the support he gave to them, to me and to the nation.”

The three buildings included in the complex are the National Security Sciences Building, the main administrative office building; the Nicholas C. Metropolis Building for Modeling and Simulation, where the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Roadrunner, is housed; and the Nonproliferation and International Security Building, where the laboratory’s Threat Reduction Division has its headquarters.

Many of Domenici’s political contemporaries said the late senator was able to accomplish so much because he put people, rather than politics, first.

State officials remember the senator

“Sen. Domenici was a dedicated statesman who always put New Mexico first,” New Mexico Governor Martinez  said Wednesday. “His devotion to our state was evident throughout his lengthy career. He tirelessly advocated for a better future for all New Mexico, from our labs and military bases to infrastructure and our innovation centers.
While we mourn Sen. Domenici’s loss, we celebrate his legacy as a champion for New Mexico and our nation.”

Martinez issued an executive order Thursday that flags are to be flown at half-staff from sunrise today to sunset Saturday.

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn described Domenici as a “bold and fearless leader” as well as a family friend who worked with Dunn’s father, when Dunn’s father was a state senator.

State legislators also gave their condolences.

“I was devastated to hear of Senator Domenici’s passing earlier this morning. As we reflect on Senator Domenici’s incredible legacy, we should also recall his willingness to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to improve the condition of our state and nation,” House Minority Leader Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Bernalillo) said. “Our country would be a better place if more public officials took Senator Domenici’s approach to governing. We have lost a legendary statesman today. My thoughts and prayers are with Nancy and the entire Domenici family.”

Domenici also stayed active in the Los Alamos political scene too, endorsing White Rock resident Jim Hall in the 2012 race against Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard for the District 43 seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

Though he didn’t know him personally, Hall had a few interactions with Domenici when Hall was chief technology officer in the Gary Johnson administration, and when Hall was a consultant for then New Mexico Attorney General Gary King.

“I think we’re a little poorer for his passing,” Hall said.

“...It didn’t matter to him whether it was a Republican governor or a Democratic governor, his focus was the state of New Mexico. I was proud to have known him.”

He was born Pietro Vichi Domenici on May 7, 1932, the only son of Cherubino and Alda Domenici, who also had four daughters. He attended an Albuquerque Catholic high school, then graduated in 1954 from the University of New Mexico. At UNM, he was a pitcher on the baseball team and after graduation signed a contract to pitch for the minor league Albuquerque Dukes.

He also taught math in the Albuquerque public schools. He received his law degree from Denver University and opened a law office in 1958 – the same year he married Nancy Burk.

The couple had two sons and six daughters. He began his political career in 1966 with his election to the Albuquerque City Commission, becoming its chairman in 1967. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1970, then won the 1972

Senate election, succeeding longtime Democratic Sen. Clinton Anderson, who retired. Domenici entered politics after his morning coffee buddies persuaded him to run for the city commission.

“My friends at coffee had planned and schemed out a way to push me to run for office,” Domenici said. “They told me ‘You either have to run for public office or quit complaining.’”

Domenici is survived by his wife; sons Peter, David and Adam; daughters Helen, Paula, Nanette, Nella, Clare and Lisa; and numerous grandchildren.

Memorial services set for this weekend

Memorial services are scheduled this weekend for the former senator.

A public celebration of the longtime lawmaker’s life will be held at Isotopes Stadium in Albuquerque on Saturday at 3 p.m.

The family also has arranged for a rosary this evening at Our Lady of Fatima in Albuquerque. A funeral service will follow Saturday morning at the Catholic church.

Domenici’s family said in a statement Wednesday that while they are mourning his death, they are also celebrating his life and many achievements. They expressed their gratitude to his supporters and all who have offered condolences.

The family said as much as Domenici did during his six terms in the Senate, he always felt there was more he could do and he was always ready to get to work.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.