ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Pete Domenici, a former Republican senator from New Mexico who became a power broker in the Senate for his work on the federal budget and energy policy, has died. Domenici was 85.
The law firm of Pete Domenici Jr., the senator's son, confirms that the former lawmaker died Wednesday morning in Albuquerque but did not provide any details.
The news of his death came at the beginning of the annual Domenici conference at New Mexico State University, named after the former senator.
"All of us were devastated," said NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers, who attended the conference. "It was quite a shock to understand that he had passed away this morning. It’s right at the opening of his conference, so he’s up with God keeping an eye on us."
The former senator usually attends the conference, which celebrated its tenth year Wednesday. Domenici usually stayed in the home of Sharon Jones, a friend and former colleague. She received a call from his wife this morning.
"When I first saw her name come up on my phone, I thought, ‘Oh, how wonderful that she would be thinking of us today,'" Jones said. "She told me that the senator had passed a couple of hours earlier and that was not what I expected to hear today. It’s really ironic that would occur today."
"I knew that his health was declining," said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima.
The mayor said he normally clears his schedule to attend the conference because Domenici inspired him to run for office when he visited Conlee Elementary School in 1974.
“I had a chance to meet him," Miyagishima said. "That was just such a great moment. I think he instilled a lot in me."
Domenici declined to seek a seventh Senate term in 2008, saying he had been diagnosed with an incurable brain disorder. He was in the Senate for more than 35 years, becoming New Mexico's longest serving senator.
The Albuquerque-born son of Italian immigrants carried a consistent message of fiscal restraint from his first term in 1972 until leaving office in early 2009.
He even refused once to buckle to President Reagan, who wanted him to delay the budget process.