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How is politics different in New Mexico?

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The death this week of New Mexico’s longest-serving U.S. senator, Pete Domenici, provided me with a strong reminder of how politics is different in New Mexico than in many other states.

Over the course of his 36-year career in the Senate, Domenici became one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, D.C. But he never lost touch with the people back home in New Mexico who elected him to six terms, and I can testify to that personally.

I'll never forget a visit Senator Domenici made to my hometown of Roswell when I was a young teenager back in the 1970s.

My mother, a reporter and editor for the local newspaper, was interviewing him for a story and wanted to introduce me to him.

I can't remember why, but for some reason Domenici ended up in our family car with Mom driving him to our house, where he sat down in our living room as she proceeded to interview him while I listened in.

I remember he was there at least long enough to drink a cup of coffee that Mom made. I also remember, even though I was only a kid, he was nice to me and said I could learn a lot from my mother.

When the interview was over, we got back in the car and Mom drove Domenici to his next meeting.

That's how politics is different in New Mexico. Because of its small population, the interaction between politicians and constituents is both more casual and personal.

It's hard to imagine a statewide politician in Texas sitting down for an extended interview with a local reporter in their living room.

Also because it's a small state, New Mexico voters typically keep re-electing their congressional representatives because they realize that over time, they'll become more powerful in Washington under Congress's seniority system. Indeed, partly because of his longevity in Congress, Senator Domenici became one of Washington's leading power brokers, until his retirement in 2009.

Domenici died Wednesday at the age of 85 from complications following abdominal surgery.

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