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Public Statements

Tribute to Senator Pete Domenici

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

TRIBUTE TO SENATOR PETE DOMENICI -- (Senate - September 27, 2008)

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, few Senators have meant more to this body than Pete Domenici, and few are more deserving of that praise. I am honored today to say a few words on the floor of the Senate about the good and humble man we all know around here as ``Uncle Pete.''

Pete is a classic American story that reminds us why America is so great. His parents were Italian immigrants who taught their five children the importance of faith, the rewards of hard work, the blessings of a big family, and an abiding love for their adopted country.

As an only son, Pete grew up fast, working in his father's wholesale grocery business, studying hard at St. Mary's High School in Albuquerque, and developing a good enough fastball to become a star pitcher at the University of New Mexico.

In a sign of his future success as a lawmaker, PETE put together an impressive 14-3 record his senior year in college. He was such a good pitcher, in fact, that he caught the attention of some major league scouts and soon earned a spot in the starting rotation of the Albuquerque Dukes.

Now, for most American boys growing up in the 1940s, being a minor league pitcher would have been enough. But not for the son of Alda and Cherubino Domenici. After earning his JD degree at the University of Denver, Pete became a lawyer. From there, he had the tools he would need to go to bat for the people of New Mexico for the next 5 decades.

Elected to the Albuquerque City Commission in 1966, he became mayor of Albuquerque the following year at the age of 35. It was there in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains that he got to know the needs and the ambitions of his friends and neighbors and seemingly everyone else.

Today, there is almost no one in New Mexico--from the high plains in the east, to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the north, to the high plateaus that cover much of the rest of the State--who does not offer a smile of recognition at the familiar name of Pete Domenici.

Five years after becoming mayor, the people of New Mexico sent Pete to Washington. It was one of the best decisions the voters of any State have ever made.

In six terms, Pete has built a reputation for honesty that is second to none. The undisputed leader on energy issues in the Senate for nearly four decades, Pete saw the need to secure America's energy future before it was cool, even writing a book on the promise of nuclear energy.

Thanks largely to his efforts, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission received its first application last year for a nuclear powerplant in 29 years.

Pete is the only American to be awarded the French nuclear society's highest award. He spearheaded efforts to pass the landmark Energy Policy Act of 2005, a comprehensive bill that has spurred the growth of renewable energy such as wind and solar and which has set America on a path of increased energy efficiency.

Pete authored the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, a bipartisan bill that opened new areas of the gulf to oil and natural gas exploration. Long before people were calling on Congress to find more and use less, Pete was showing us that it could be done.

Pete's tenure on the Budget Committee earned him a well-deserved reputation as one of the strictest fiscal hawks in Congress. As chairman or ranking member for nearly 23 years, he coauthored the original Budget Reform Act of 1974, which started the modern budget process and established the Congressional Budget Office. He authored the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, leading to 4 straight years of surpluses.

There is no greater friend of the disabled in this country than Pete Domenici. A coauthor of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, he has fought tirelessly to expand it ever since. And just this week, all that hard work paid off when the Senate approved full mental health parity as part of the tax extenders bill. After years of patient effort, Pete's vision for expanded benefits for millions of struggling Americans will--we hope--soon be the law of the land.

Pete's contributions to his home State are literally legendary. He helped protect and preserve New Mexico's breathtaking natural beauty by working to create nearly 1 million acres of wilderness throughout the State. In concert with the National Park Service, he authorized the Route 66 initiative to help preserve the look and the feel of this iconic American road.

He has helped bring water to rural communities through the water supply bill. He secured funding for the only major western dam project of the last decade. All of this is just part of Pete Domenici's legacy.

Fortunately, the people of New Mexico will be able to get the whole story thanks to an effort that was recently announced at New Mexico State University to study Pete's impact on public policy and contributions to the State in 36 remarkable years of service in the Senate.

The people of New Mexico are not the only ones who are grateful for Pete's service. He may not know this, but Pete has a lot of fans in Kentucky. Back in the late 1990s, when Kentuckians were beginning to learn the extent of the environmental and health damage caused by the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Pete offered a helping hand. Whether it was appropriating funds for the cleanup, making sure workers were screened for lung cancer, or compensating those who had been wrongfully injured, Senator Domenici has been a reliable partner to me and a great friend to the people of Paducah every step of the way, and we are grateful for his help.

A record such as this is not easy to achieve in the Senate. It takes vision, hard work, patience, and an ability to cooperate with Members on both sides of the aisle. One mark of Pete's skills in working with Members of both sides is the praise he has received not only from local media but the national press as well. Here is what the New York Times had to say about Pete in 2001:

If Mr. Domenici sounds like a serious man, he is. A colleague once described him as having a case of terminal responsibility. He is not cut from the same bolt as most politicians.

Like most of us, Pete never could have done it alone. And he has not. Around the same time the minor league scouts noticed Pete, Pete noticed a young lady named Nancy Burk. And 50 years ago this year, Pete and Nancy were married. Fifty years of marriage is a remarkable achievement in itself, and it is well worth noting.

Apparently Pete and Nancy were both overachievers. Over the years, they raised eight children, which, of course, makes all the other accomplishments look a little less challenging.

They are a remarkable couple. They made the Senate a more friendly place. And I know my wife Elaine has enjoyed getting to know Nancy and working with her in the Senate Spouses Group.

The members of my staff are going to miss Uncle Pete a lot as well. They will miss his frequent visits and his stories about the old days and the way he lit up like a child whenever he talked about his faith, his children, his grandkids, and his beloved wife Nancy who, thanks to Pete's bragging, is known to everyone on my staff as a great cook.

They will miss his warmth, his good cheer, and his passion for the issues of the day. They will miss the same things that his colleagues will miss: an honest statesman and a good man who made all of us proud to be Members of the same institution as him.

Whenever Pete is reminded of all that he has done for the people of New Mexico and for our country, he always says the same thing: It is an honor. Now we, his colleagues in the Senate, say the same thing about the time we have spent working alongside this good man.

Senator Domenici, it has been an honor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Mexico.

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