Former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici has accepted a position as a “senior adviser” to state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn Jr., a move that could raise Dunn’s political profile among state Republicans as he pushes to win state control over federal lands and possibly considers higher office.
The land office made the announcement Wednesday, but many of the details about what role Domenici will play and whether he will receive a salary appeared yet to be formalized.
The 84-year-old former six-term Republican senator, who has spent the past 40-plus years in Washington, D.C., will move back to New Mexico, he said in a news release.
“I will be relocating to New Mexico in mid-January of 2017 after many years in Washington, D.C., and my wife Nancy and I look forward to returning to New Mexico permanently,” Domenici said.
A son said Domenici will reside in Albuquerque, where he began his political career as a city commissioner in the 1960s.
“Sen. Domenici is a wealth of knowledge and brings the Land Office a lifetime of experience,” Dunn said in the same statement. “I can’t think of anyone better to come on as my senior advisor. His dedication and service to the state of New Mexico and to its natural resources is very admirable and the Land Office is fortunate to have him.”
A spokeswoman for Dunn said Wednesday she didn’t yet know what, if any, expenses would be involved in creating the new advisory position and what exactly Domenici’s duties will be. “We’re still ironing all that out,” Emily Strickler said. “His role will mainly focus on education issues and land and water conservation.”
The “education issues” Strickler mentioned include the commissioner’s proposal to start a new permanent fund to finance early childhood education programs with revenue from leasing mineral rights associated with public land now owned by the federal government. That plan would require action by both the state Legislature and Congress. So far, the plan has been met with criticism from New Mexico environmentalists, who say it is a way to open up more public lands to private oil and gas interests.
“I look forward to working with the Land Commissioner on the bill he has prepared regarding early childhood education and the assurance of funding for this initiative, as well as assisting the Land Commissioner in his overall obligation and commitment to education funding for New Mexicans,” the former senator’s statement said.
Domenici and Dunn are scheduled to discuss that proposal during a Friday meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council — known as ALEC — in Washington, D.C. ALEC is a controversial conservative organization in which state legislators and representatives of corporations meet to discuss proposed bills for state legislatures to consider.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Commissioner Dunn,” Domenici said. “It will bring back many memories of working with his father, who was a New Mexico icon for many years.” That was a reference to the late state Sen. Aubrey Dunn Sr., D-Alamogordo, a former chairman of the New Mexico Senate Finance Committee who served in the Legislature for 15 years in the 1960s and ’70s.
Domenici’s son Pete Domenici Jr. is an Albuquerque lawyer whose firm advertises that “We can assist you on federal and state public land use and water issues” involving the New Mexico State Land Office and other agencies.
The younger Domenici said Wednesday that his firm rarely handles cases involving the State Land Office. “I think the last active litigation we did with the Land Office was about four years ago,” he told The New Mexican. “If something comes up, we’ll have to deal with it.”
The senior Dunn ran for governor in 1982 but lost the Democratic primary to Toney Anaya, who went on to win the general election. The younger Dunn’s name has been mentioned in political circles as a possible candidate for governor in 2018. He was elected as land commissioner in 2014.
The elder Domenici was elected to the Senate in 1972. He served until the end of 2008 after deciding not to seek another term. He is the longest-serving U.S. senator from New Mexico.
During his tenure in the Senate, Domenici served as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for four years and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee for more than 12 years.
Since leaving the Senate, Domenici has worked for the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he is a senior fellow. The center is a think tank founded in 2007 by a group of four former senators, Republicans Howard Baker and Bob Dole and Democrats Tom Daschle and George Mitchell. It promotes bipartisan approaches to various policy issues.
Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.