9-25 Does Pete Really Mean It?
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Rejoice. Gasoline prices have gone back down and everyone is happy.
Well, almost everyone. Democratic strategists think it was something the White House manipulated for the coming election. And U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici is not too sure that lower oil and gas prices are healthy for the nation in the long term.
Pete's for high oil prices? That's impossible. No politician in his right mind would do that. But political blogger Joe Monahan says our senator advanced the idea last month in the Congressional Quarterly magazine.
Domenici has long been an advocate of energy independence. I can remember speeches of his dating back to the early days of his 33-year Senate career in which he proposed ways of getting out from under the thumb of the "OPECers."
Now, as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Domenici has more power than anyone in the country to influence energy policy.
Pete never has been particularly big on conservation as a solution to energy independence. his solutions have been in the areas of opening more domestic oil and gas production and bolstering alternative energy sources.
His biggest push has been in the area of revitalizing the nuclear power industry, which fell into disfavor after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents. Since then, nuclear safety technology has improved to the extent we are told there will be no such problems in the future.
The biggest problem remaining with nuclear energy is waste storage. No one wants it. Maybe the answer lies in recycling the waste. Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recently licensed a $1.5 billion uranium enrichment plant near Eunice, NM and uranium claims throughout the West are being reopened.
But Domenici says America will never achieve energy independence without utilizing every avenue available for increased energy production.
So, our Pete has suggested the politically unthinkable. Instead of the government imposing a ceiling on oil prices, he told Congressional Quarterly a floor would be a "very, very interesting proposition."
Domenici says high oil and gas prices spur innovations and investments in advanced energy technologies. But fear of a reversal in soaring prices is a primary factor in scaring investors from continuing progress toward alternative energy sources.
In the current Middle Eastern political climate, independence from their oil becomes ever more attractive, so the idea could grow legs. But how will it sell to New Mexico voters? Pete already has said in a fundraising letter that he will be running again in 2008.
Is it because Pete is invincible? What would it take for voters to shun him? Certainly nothing that Democrats have discovered in 33 years. And he can always claim he was just brainstorming for the magazine.
Or what if Pete doesn't really plan to run in '08? There's no law against raising money for a possible campaign. What if he's just trying to keep the field clear for the candidate of his choice to step in at the last minute?
Domenici's good friend, former U.S. Rep. Manuel Lujan did just that for his brother, Ed Lujan, in 1988. District Attorney Steve Schiff messed up the plan by jumping into the race anyway and winning the GOP primary. But the stakes are higher in a Senate race, so the switcheroo might have a better chance of working.
And who might Domenici choose to succeed himself? Pete laid his reputation on the line for Heather Wilson in 1998, when the state GOP central committee placed state Sen. Bill Davis above her on the primary election ballot.
Might he be willing to put it on the line for Wilson again? Wilson has positioned herself as a moderate Republican, in Pete's image, with Albuquerque voters. That certainly wouldn't hurt in getting his support as a successor. If, that is, Pete has any plans to step down.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) email@example.com