Domenici top-notch politician

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

When I saw him again Monday I told myself, “This man can’t be ready for another six years.”

I didn’t get a chance to talk to him or even fling a question his way during the change of command ceremonies at Cannon Air Force Base. I could tell Sen. Pete Domenici wasn’t doing nearly as well as he had been the last time I saw him nine months previous.

Sure enough, by mid-week he had stunned the state with the announcement that he wouldn’t be running for reelection after all because of a worsening brain disease.

The first time I remember shaking the man’s hand I was a college student at Eastern New Mexico University and working in the pressroom at the PNT.

Anytime a politician has ever come through a newspaper office their main goal after the interview was to press as much flesh throughout the building as fast as they could.

At that point in my life I was real leery of anyone in a suit and — while it was obvious he might have started his day with the coat on — by that time the wiry, be-speckled senator had the coat off and sleeves rolled up.

Good thing, because he set me at ease, I wiped the stickiest of the ink from my hands and returned his handshake.

My father-in-law loved Domenici and though I doubt the good senator ever received a dime in campaign contribution from him, he proudly wore his People for Pete button every time the man ran. He was a big-time politician who remembered his name and his business and took the time to listen.

The first time I ever sat across a table from Pete in my own office I had the table turned on me, literally. As my managing editor and I ushered him into my office, I lagged a half-second behind — just enough time for her to motion the senator behind my desk and into my chair.

At first I was pretty darned perturbed that my ME had given my chair away to a politician. As the interview progressed I found out why the state was so charmed with Domenici. He listened carefully, knew what the issues were and could talk to you intelligently and realistically about them.

The chair he was sitting in had belonged to my father-in-law and had recently been given to me by my wife after his death. She was proud Pete sat in her daddy’s chair.

For years — many of them spent away from New Mexico politics — I’ve seen an endless carousel of politicians come through my office.

None of them ever sat in my chair. Few of them really even deserved very much of my time.

Last winter Domenici stopped in at the Clovis News Journal for a roundtable grilling by editors and reporters at our two papers. After not getting a visit from him for 15 years it was immediately apparent I had forgotten what I was missing.

He never once just told us what we wanted to hear. His answers were carefully thought out and it was obvious, despite the age chasing the man, his mind was as sharp as it had ever been.

He’s worked hard for New Mexico for years and it’s going to feel strange without him.

I wish him luck in the next year and on into retirement. My chair’s available to him anytime he’s in town.