SANTA FE – Below is the text of U.S. Senator Pete Domenici’s prepared remarks for his address to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature.
The speech is Domenici’s last as a U.S. Senator to the Legislature. Domenici, first elected in 1972, announced his retirement last October and will conclude his Senate career in January 2009.
Address to the New Mexico Legislature
As I look around today, I see many familiar faces, and many new ones. I also miss many old friends—like Ben Altamirano, Ike Smalley, Jack Stahl, John Irick and Billy McKibben, my old UNM alum, Raymond Sanchez, Eddie Lopez, Jack Daniels, Mack Easley, and some of my closest friends, Gene Cinelli, Joe Skeen and Colin McMillan. Some have passed on and some have gone back into the private sector. All of them, and more, have helped during my Senate career, and I thank them and you.
As I look back from the first time I addressed the Legislature on February 25, 1973, I am struck by how much has changed and how much progress we have made. That has been the most enjoyable part of my job—doing real things that make a real difference in people’s lives.
Let me tell you a little story that some of you have heard before.
Almost 20 years ago, I spoke at the annual meeting of the New Mexico Electric Cooperatives down in Ruidoso. After I finished speaking, two ladies came up, tugged on my coat and began thanking me profusely. I asked them what I had done to earn such thanks. They explained that because of my support for rural electrification, they had reliable electric power for the first time.
So, they decided to give me a present—an old galvanized washboard! They no longer needed it to wash by hand. They had electricity at long last. I still have that old washboard, with a photograph of Christina Rael and Amandita Aragon, displayed in my office.
That story sums up what being your United States Senator has meant to me—working for people, making real and steady progress, day by day.
How lucky I have been. I have seen our state grow more prosperous, gain a million more citizens, and become more important than ever in providing energy for Americans. I have seen a million additional acres put into wilderness. I have seen the expansion of our national laboratories and military installations. I have seen more small businesses created than ever before.
Instead of a state where unemployment almost always exceeded the national average, we now live in a state in which unemployment has been lower than average for several years. Yes, we still have unacceptable pockets of poverty, and we have so much work yet to do in educating our youth for the challenges of a truly global economy. But, we have made progress.
I am proud to have been part of that progress. When I started in the Senate, we had no large scale wind farms in eastern New Mexico. Now, we have one near House that provided electricity for yesterday’s Super Bowl Game! And, one of the reasons wind energy is on the rise in New Mexico is the large number of incentives we’ve put into law through national energy bills that I have been proud to author.
New Mexico’s oil and gas industries are booming, providing hundreds of millions of dollars for education and other state needs. The natural gas boom is due, in part, to deregulation legislation we passed during the Carter Administration; and, part of the incredible expansion of the ethanol industry is a direct result of energy legislation I helped author and that President Bush signed into law.
In the 30 years in between those two acts, we passed additional energy legislation expanding alternative energy sources and the use of nuclear energy.
The uranium enrichment plant being build in Lea County will be the first such facility built in this country in 50 years, and WIPP near Carlsbad is a terrific success as the nation’s only waste repository.
In virtually all areas of energy production, New Mexico plays an important role in addressing America’s energy security and moving us to a “Brighter Tomorrow.”
Energy isn’t the only area where the nation looks to New Mexico. We are also advancing the nation’s security with several major facilities that we have helped grow, and in two cases, saved from closure—Cannon and Kirtland Air Force Bases.
Let me talk for a moment about the state’s two nuclear laboratories, since their future has been widely debated in the media.
Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs are national treasures. They have unrivaled knowledge and experience. Some think that what our labs, and our nation, needs is a fundamental change in the mission of the labs. During the past decade, both labs are doing more and more non-weapons work. Our labs are, and will continue, changing to accommodate new challenges.
But, don’t make any mistake here. The labs are critical to this nation’s international security. They are critical to detecting weapons of mass destruction. They are critical to responding to nuclear emergencies anywhere in the world. They must ensure that our weapons stockpile serves as an effective deterrent against the spread of nuclear weapons to dangerous regimes. Without an effective umbrella, it is inevitable that more countries, like Iran and North Korea, might develop their own nuclear weapons programs in response to threats from North Korea and Iran.
To suggest that the labs’ weapons and nuclear missions are no longer necessary is a profound misinterpretation of the international security situation.
I have worked on nonproliferation, and I can tell you how important the labs are in this work. Some of you wish we could reduce our nuclear weapons stockpiles. The fact is that within five years, we will have thousands fewer warheads in our stockpile—a level we have not since the Eisenhower Era. In short, our labs have been critical to our efforts to reduce our stockpile, and the weapons-grade fuel from these warheads is being used as fuel in nuclear power plants.
So, I am proud of my work to increase the scope of the labs’ work, and the number of employees who work in the labs. Today, LANL employs more than 11,200 workers and there are more than 9,300 at Sandia. Working with specialists from the labs has allowed me to play a large role in this nation’s weapons policy and in our nonproliferation efforts throughout the world. New Mexico, once again, has a crucial role in America’s strength.
The security of our nation is also being improved by a little project I helped get started in Artesia. When we dreamed up the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center almost 20 years ago, we hoped that it would become a premier facility for training all kinds of federal law enforcement officials. FLETC is realizing that dream. It is full, and it is a primary reason why Artesia and the surrounding area are experiencing such excellent economic growth.
I see other wonderful areas of progress in our state. The federal tech transfer law we passed almost 20 years ago is bearing fruit through business growth in the technology arena. With your help, we have been able to introduce and grow the Character Counts education program in our public schools. Our state is stronger for this program.
We have impacted in a very positive way the water needs of this state. I’m glad to have helped small communities get new water wells, and I hope our work on the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow dilemma will become a template for other states to use.
Of all the groups I have had the opportunity to work with, none has changed more than the Indians of our state. One of the most important reasons, of course, has been the spread of Indian gaming. This has brought a new prosperity to many of the tribes and pueblos of our state. Yet, we still have work to do. Water disputes, lack of employment, and the scourge of diabetes remain serious problems to our Indian neighbors. I am proud of the work we have done so far, and I hope that you all will work with the new congressional delegation next year to continue it.
I also want to thank you here who helped New Mexico pass and implement a mental health parity law. This is a special project to me. We were successful at passing a very good mental health parity bill in the Senate last year, and are working with the House of Representatives to get a bill to the President before the end of this Congress. New Mexico can be proud of setting a national example in this arena.
When I go to Valles Caldera, the Rio Grande bosque, the Snowy River formation at Fort Stanton Cave; or when I look at the Sandia Mountains, protected by wilderness designation, and the Bosque del Apache, I am happy that I could be part of saving that heritage for future generations. Many of you have been partners in that effort and I thank you.
In the 36 years I’ve worked for our state and our nation, I’ve learned three things:
1. government is essential to many fundamental functions of society;
2. that we have a deep responsibility to those who elect us to pursue the best policies, free of ideology; and,
3. that we are in danger of losing our ability to move forward as a nation because of destructive, personality-driven, partisan politics.
Let me leave you with this warning. American democracy is in trouble unless we put aside political extremes and work toward our common goals. It is tragic when ideological politics block progress. It has been said, “Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” As I have legislated this past 36 years, my goal has been to move New Mexico and this nation forward.
I am not naïve. I know as well as you do that no one person has any monopoly on perfection—neither does any party, nor any philosophy, no matter how fervently held. I have been willing to compromise in order to move three steps toward our goals, rather than stubbornly insist on “my way or the highway.”
All of you in this chamber face the same pressures.
Extremes in both parties put enormous pressure on policymakers who are trying to find common ground and produce good legislation. And, the extreme positions are used ruthlessly in partisan campaigns.
You know, I don’t hesitate to call Governor Richardson, or Senator Bingaman, or many of you, when I want to talk about an initiative for our state. I don’t regard you as liberals or conservatives, but as fellow leaders trying to do your best. We must put aside these simplistic labels, and the politics of character assassination that are too prominent today.
Look at some of the challenges ahead: water, education, health care, job creation. We can meet these enormous challenges if we pull together, once again, a centrist coalition that shuns political extremes and focuses on common ground.
I close today with my heartfelt thanks to you and all New Mexicans for the high honor of serving you for so many years. I cannot imagine that I could have spent my life more productively or honorably than as your United States Senator.