Reflections on Sen. Pete Domenici, after Tuesday’s disclosure of secret son

Former six-term New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici — one of the most compelling political figures of his generation — revealed Tuesday that he fathered a son more than 30 years ago with the daughter of former Nevada Sen. and Gov. Paul Laxalt.

Domenici, 80, and the mother, Michelle Laxalt, said they told the story to the Albuquerque Journal because someone else was preparing to publish the news. Their son, Adam Paul Laxalt, a former Navy officer and Nevada attorney, declined comment.

For me, the story brought back memories of Domenici, whose intellectual curiosity, dignity and grit made him a model lawmaker.

I got to know Domenici from the distance of a junior staffer-on-loan, having spent 1988-89 as a congressional fellow of the American Political Science Association. I was assigned to New Mexico’s junior Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat. Bingaman retired in January after five six-year terms. Elected in 1972 in the same class with Idaho GOP Sen. Jim McClure, Republican Domenici retired in 2009.

In the New Mexico delegation, bipartisanship was the culture, in the name of advancing the state’s interest. Domenici and Bingaman were great partners in boosting the national labs at Los Alamos and Sandia, among other important institutions. Domenici’s work on budgets and deficits was stellar. He was the sort of dealmaker Congress desperately needs now.

My sharpest memory of Domenici is of a meeting in his office, with Sen. Bingaman, other staff , and, I believe, a congressional liaison from the U.S. Forest Service. Stakeholders, including ranchers, had complained about a national forest supervisor who they found unreasonably inflexible. The beefs were long-standing.

There was a good deal of talk about the issues at hand, details of which I don’t recall. Domenici didn’t want to be seen as meddling, but he also wanted to solve a festering problem for constituents.

Cutting to the quick, he turned to a staffer with a single question, “How long before Old John retires?”

It turned out “Old John” was a number of years shy of retirement. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but not long after Domenici’s question, he was reassigned to another Forest Service post. It wouldn’t surprise me if he never learned of Domenici’s velvet-gloved role.

Domenici’s statement to the Journal is in keeping with the great rectitude with which he carried himself. He took full ownership and said of the Laxalts and his wife, Nancy, with whom he had eight children, “None of them wanted this publicity, none of them deserve the hurt of this revelation, and only I should bear the brunt of this matter.”

Domenici’s statement:

More than 30 years ago, I fathered a child outside my marriage. The mother of that child made me pledge that we would never reveal that parenthood, and I have tried to honor that pledge and so has she. I have been concerned about the burden of privacy on the son Adam Laxalt.

I am also worried about the impact of these revelations on his mother, Michelle Laxalt. However, rather than have others breach this privacy, I have decided to make this statement today. These circumstances now compel me to reveal this situation.

My past action has caused hurt and disappointment to my wife, children, family, and others. For that I am solely responsible. My family has been aware of these events for several months. I have apologized as best as I can to my wife, and we have worked together to strengthen our relationship.

I deeply regret this and am very sorry for my behavior. I hope New Mexicans will view that my accomplishments for my beloved state outweigh my personal transgression. I only ask that everyone respect the privacy of my family and the son’s mother. None of them wanted this publicity, none of them deserve the hurt of this revelation, and only I should bear the brunt of this matter.



Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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