GOP Sen. Domenici Announces Retirement

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 4, 2007; 7:23 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, one of the most influential voices in Congress on budget and energy issues, announced Thursday that he is retiring at the end of his sixth term because of a degenerative brain disease.

"I come here today, to the site of the school that I attended as a boy, to tell you that I will not run for re-election to the United States Senate," Domenici said at a news conference in the Albuquerque neighborhood where he grew up.

After a medical exam last month revealed progression of an incurable brain disorder known as frontotemporal lobar degeneration, or FLTD, the 75-year-old senator discussed retirement with his family and concluded that he might not physically be able to serve a full seventh term.

"The progress of this disease is apparently erratic and unpredictable. It may well be that seven years from now, it will be stable," Domenici said. "On the other hand, it may also be that the disease will have incapacitated me. That's possible."

"I am not willing to take a chance that the people who have so honored me with their trust for 40 years might not be served as well as they deserve in the United States Senate."

The disease is a type of dementia, and its name refers to the slow deterioration of affected sections of the brain, the front and lower sides _ areas that control such things as language and behavior. Symptoms include increasing difficulty with speech and Parkinson's disease-like movement problems.

"No cure for my disease exists yet," Domenici said. "But if we work hard enough we may be able to cure people with diseases of the brain."

Domenici told a crowd of about 100 family members, friends and supporters that he was confident that he will be able to serve out his current term, which expires in January 2009. During his speech, he smiled broadly and joked, calling people in the audience by name and recalling projects that they had worked on together.

Until this week, Domenici had appeared committed to a re-election bid, having President Bush attend a fundraiser in late August that collected more than $400,000 for the senator.

But Democrats had begun to view Domenici as politically vulnerable because of his support for the war in Iraq and ethical questions raised by his telephone call to New Mexico's federal prosecutor before last year's general election. David Iglesias, a Republican who was fired as U.S. attorney, has testified in Congress that he felt pressured by Domenici and Rep. Healther Wilson, R-N.M., to rush indictments in a corruption case involving Democrats.

Domenici has acknowledged calling Iglesias, but says he didn't pressure the prosecutor and was following up on constituent complaints about the slow pace of an investigation into fraud and kickbacks in a courthouse construction project.

With Domenici's retirement, Republicans must defend 22 of 34 seats on the 2008 ballot. No Democrats have announced retirement plans.

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