Domenici’s fashion faux pas makes waves

By Ned Cantwell: State columnist

Here’s the deal. You go to the Vatican and expect to find Pete Domenici holding forth in St. Peter’s Square and Pope Benedict taking notes.

When Pete Domenici walks into a building, doors open before him, rooms grow quiet in his presence. You wonder when is the last time Pete Domenici had to drive a car without someone whisking him to where he wants to go. When you buy a computer in New Mexico, you almost expect a little Pete Domenici icon to pop up on the screen.

OK, so I exaggerate. Point is, though, the senior senator from New Mexico commands a ton of respect, both at home and around the nation. When his fellow Republicans are in power Pete is a Very Big Voice in Washington. When the Democrats take over, he fumes a lot.

Sen. Pete went to Washington in 1972, the year George McGovern mounted an anti-war campaign to oust Dick Nixon but got a sound thumping at the hands of the Republican incumbent.

The New Mexico columnist learns fairly quickly that Sen. Pete is a pretty funny guy away from the office, but when it comes to his work he is as dead serious as a Soprano who just had his wallet lifted. After once poking fun at Pete I got a call from the senator. His opening line was “I always thought you were one of the good guys.” Meaning, of course, I wasn’t one of the good guys any longer.

So I tread lightly. But, still. Sorry. The idea of Sen. Pete walking around the Senate hallways in his pajamas isn’t one easily dismissed. Would Queen Elizabeth wear her nightgown to a coronation?

What happened was that Pete was spotted wearing his PJs one recent Friday when Congress was in recess and there wasn’t much going on. It was the talk of the town, and the Web. Has the 74-year-old leader, once described by the New York Times as enjoying “a universal reputation as one of the Senate’s hardest working, most intelligent and most intense members” lost it? “Capitol Threatened by Confused Old Man in Pajamas,” read one idiot blogger headline.

Hold on, the senator says. They were not PJs. They were hunting pants. Sen. Pete told the Albuquerque Journal the pants are for hunting, but you can wear them for anything. He said they are “warm, fun, comfortable and Christmasy.” Sounds like my teddy bear with its cute nifty Santa hat.

While Pete was refreshingly lighthearted about the incident, keep in mind this was workplace stuff. Serious stuff. When the Journal called him about the pajamas incident, he chided them with the reminder that unlike many members of Congress who were relaxing at home, he was at the office working.

“I work on recess all the time,” Domenici told the reporter. “I call you on recess all the time.”

Fine, we’ve got that straight, but let’s talk about the trousers themselves. You fashionistas will be interested to know they are red and white, buffalo plaid pants. Cute, no doubt, but they don’t hold a candle to my Sponge Bob jammies.

Garish hunting pants, of course, are designed to alert other hunters to your presence. One of Domenici’s favorite hunting partners is Dick Cheney, in which case our beloved senator might be advised to wear pants that include strobe lights and sirens if the vice president gets within 100 yards.

Ned Cantwell — — sometimes wears his Sponge Bobs in the drive-through lane at Taco Bell.