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By Abe Villarreal

They say that when you visit Washington D.C., you become a patriot. For a moment, your ideological thoughts are washed away as you stare over the beauty of the Potomac River.

The majesty of the Jefferson Memorial, and the grandeur of America’s most recognizable President, Mr. Abe Lincoln, looking down at you as he sits upon his throne – it’s almost too much to take at once.

At least it was for me during one summer in 2004 as an undergrad when I had the privilege of interning for the late Senator Pete Domenici. It was a summer to remember.

I was shy and a bit of an introvert. At the time, Senator Domenici was in his final years in the Senate and was known as an institution within the institution. He had battled and negotiated fiscal matters, quite successfully, for decades.

As an intern, you’re not sure what lies ahead of you when you first arrive upon the historic steps of the Capitol. Everything seems so big, and clean. Washington, D.C., is a place of contradictions. The men that work there are wealthy and powerful. The people that live there are poor, most without a college degree.

Laws about crime are passed all the time. Crime is taking place daily all around the place laws are being passed. And within the small square that makes up the border of this famous city, big things are happening, mostly because of big people like Pete Domenici.

A soft-mannered man with clear intentions, for the six weeks that I spent interning in the hallowed halls of the Dirksen Building, I only had the chance to see Senator Domenici twice. One of those times was to deliver him an ice cream cone.

You’re not much of an intern without doing things like delivering ice cream cones.

Senator Domenici was a proud New Mexican. He knew that the people were for Pete and they demonstrated it during six elections when they kept sending him back as their representative.

Between checking for mail and writing political position statements (that I’m sure were never used), I spent most of my summer as an undergraduate running between museums and memorials, trying to soak in the experience and attempting to understand the complexity of what makes this place an enduring testament to our country.

And on that one occasion, when I asked to run down to the commissary because The Senator felt like eating an ice cream cone, I didn’t miss my chance.

It’s something special to walk down the long hallways of the Capitol buildings. You see the busts of the people that made some kind of great contribution to what we are today as a nation. Nothing is ever out of place. The doors are long and tall.

Everything has a purpose and is making a statement. The closer you look at the fine details, the more you realize that life is nuanced and filled with grey area. That’s what clarity can show you if you take a moment and just look.

We don’t have a royal family in America, but in Washington, D.C., you feel you are amongst the most royal of people. For me, Pete Domenici was up there with the best of them.

That day I gave him an ice cream cone, he looked at me and smiled. He asked about my background and we chatted for a few minutes. For a moment, I believed that a politician cared enough to know who I was and why I existed.

The people were not just for Pete. Pete was for the people. Thank you for your service, Senator.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

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