ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — For nearly 40 years, Sen. Pete Domenici's reputation was that of a well-respected — some might say staid — conservative Republican and honorable family man.
But the 80-year-old New Mexico political giant's persona was shaken Wednesday with the revelation that he had an out-of-wedlock child in the 1970s and became embroiled in what might be described as an inside-the-Beltway soap opera.
While his wife Nancy was raising their eight children, Domenici had the affair and secret child with a woman about half his age — and who happened to be the daughter of one of his Senate colleagues. The woman raised the child on her own, became a prominent lobbyist, Republican activist and political commentator, and their 30-something son has since gone on to build an impressive Washington resume himself.
The saga shocked people in New Mexico who viewed Domenici as a man of honesty and integrity during his six terms and 36 years in the Senate that ended in 2008.
"I deeply regret this and am very sorry for my behavior," Domenici said in his statement. "I hope New Mexicans will view that my accomplishments for my beloved state outweigh my personal transgression."
Domenici and the mother of the child, Michelle Laxalt, went public this week, she said, out of fear someone was about to release the information in an attempt to smear Domenici and his "extraordinary wife." They issued a statement revealing the story to the Albuquerque Journal.
They identified their son as Nevada attorney Adam Paul Laxalt, a former U.S. Navy officer who served in Iraq.
It was just the latest in a seemingly endless stream of politicians being forced to reveal secret children, from one-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards to former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Just last week, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee acknowledged that he's the father of a 24-year-old woman after the two were seen communicating on Twitter during the State of the Union address.
Domenici was known for his unflagging support of the state's national laboratories and military installations, and he became a power broker for his work on the federal budget and energy policy.
Domenici voted for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998 after his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but his floor statement focused on the fact that Clinton had lied under oath, noting that the trial "has never been about the President's private sex acts, as tawdry as they have been."
But in the same speech, he cited the value of "truthfulness" and how it's the first pillar of good character.
Reached at his home in Washington on Wednesday, Domenici said he had nothing more to say. Domenici and his wife have been married more than 50 years and have eight children.
Michelle Laxalt was an up-and-coming Washington figure when she and Domenici had an affair. Laxalt, then in her 20s, is the daughter of former Nevada Gov. and Sen. Paul Laxalt, who served two terms beside Domenici.
In 2008, Domenici was reprimanded by the Senate ethics committee for his involvement in a scandal over the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys.