Dodd says Washington needs more Pete Domenicis

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U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., spoke on Thursday about the civility and respect that is sorely lacking in Washington today. A discussion after his speech with the man he travelled most of the way across the country to honor, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., provided a glimpse of what Washington once was and what Dodd hopes it will become again.

The brief exchange on what to do about the conflict between Georgia and Russia came as the two senators shared the stage in the Corbett Center Ballrooms at New Mexico State University. They agreed on most points, but Domenici told Dodd he thought it would be more difficult to convince Russia to leave Georgia than Dodd suggested.

That discussion was sandwiched between Domenici sharing a humorous story about Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. and telling Dodd about NMSU’s plan to create a center to house his papers and memorabilia and host an annual conference to advance the issues to which Domenici devoted his career. The two also shared their concern for Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer.

It was a perfect illustration of the speech Dodd, a former presidential candidate who calls himself a progressive Democrat, gave to honor the GOP’s Domenici as his 36-year tenure in the Senate comes to an end.

“I love this man and I care about him very deeply,” Dodd told the approximately 200 people in attendance. “This is a unique and wonderful person who has given to his country.”

Dodd described Domenici as “someone who from the very beginning brought a sense of conviction and passion.” Dodd said partisanship is not Washington’s problem; in fact, he said, it’s a strength. He and Domenici rarely agree on substantive issues and openly disagree. Out of such debate, he said, comes good policy.

The problem, Dodd said, is that the civility and respect that must accompany such passion are sorely lacking in Washington today.

“It’s the idea that you can come together for the common good of the country,” Dodd said. “That’s what Pete Domenici brings.”

Dodd cited the Character Counts program in schools as one fruit of Domenici’s civility and respect. The program provides grants to states to “see to it that young people have a chance to learn those values,” Dodd said, and he attributed its existence to Domenici.

In addition, Domenici, Dodd and Kennedy have been working for years to pass a bill requiring mental health parity in the insurance industry. Dodd told Domenici he hopes the proposal will receive the final approval of Congress before the end of the year. Regardless, he said, it will happen in the near future because of Domenici’s work.

“It’s important to know that this country works when people of different ideas can come together to make a difference,” Dodd said, adding that he worries about the nation’s future if the mean-spirited culture that has developed in Washington isn’t replaced by more civility and respect. He said Washington needs more people like Domenici.

Dodd’s speech wasn’t without its partisan undertones. He told Domenici that, only an hour before the speech, he spoke by phone to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. When he told the Illinois senator why he was in Las Cruces, Dodd said Obama replied by saying, “Pete Domenici is one of the finest public servants I’ve ever served with.”

Domenici thanked Dodd for traveling to NMSU to share the inaugural Domenici Public Policy Conference with him.

“I greatly appreciate you coming. Just terrific,” Domenici said.

You can watch Dodd’s speech and the other conference events by clicking here.

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