WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Pete Domenici, a former minor league baseball pitcher who became a major league power player in the U.S. Senate on energy and budget issues and New Mexico’s longest-serving senator, died on Wednesday in Albuquerque at age 85.
Domenici, a Republican, served as chairman of the Budget Committee and Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his 36 years in the Senate before deciding not to seek re-election in 2008 due to a degenerative brain disease.
Brandi Sanchez, a spokeswoman for his son’s law firm in Albuquerque, confirmed the death of the former senator.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter that the Senate was saddened to learn of “the passing of our friend Senator Pete Domenici.”
Domenici, the son of Italian immigrants, was a key player in a 1997 balanced budget measure negotiated with Democratic President Bill Clinton and was a prominent supporter of nuclear energy.
He also fought for greater health insurance coverage for people with mental illness. His daughter Clare, one of his eight children with wife Nancy, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Domenici was instrumental in the Senate in securing Republican President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts, Republican President George H.W. Bush’s 1990 tax hikes and the 1997 budget deal reached between Clinton and Republicans. He was considered a leading “deficit hawk.”
Domenici was a pragmatic conservative Republican who was able to work with Senate Democrats like Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. “My success as a senator has come only through working together with my Senate colleagues from all parties – they know that and I know that,” he said in 2007.
That success came after friends urged Domenici not to go into politics to spare him from personal attacks.
“Obviously, I didn’t listen to them,” he said. “And I’m glad I didn’t. I have found politics to not be as harsh as my friends predicted. For the most part, it’s been just the opposite.”
Domenici was not in good health in his final years in the Senate. In October 2007, at age 75, he announced his decision not to seek a seventh six-year term in the Senate the following year due to progression of the incurable brain disorder called frontotemporal lobar degeneration.