SANTA FE – The New Mexico Republican Party’s state convention this weekend could take place in the dark – at least figuratively.
Sandia Resort and Casino officials notified GOP staffers on Tuesday that Sandia Pueblo’s tribal government will not allow news media to attend the convention, which will include a hotly contested race for a Republican National Committee post and the election of delegates to attend the party’s national convention.
Several media outlets, including the Journal, had previously submitted requests to the state GOP for media credentials.
State GOP spokesman Tucker Keene said the Republican Party of New Mexico likely would not hold future events at the Sandia Resort and Casino in light of the announcement, but said the late notice made changing venues for the weekend event impossible.
“This took months and months to plan, and four days is simply not enough time (to make a change),” Keene told the Journal.
He also said the news media ban was not mentioned in the contract to rent space for the convention.
A receptionist in the office of Sandia Pueblo Gov. Isaac Lujan confirmed the news media ban Tuesday afternoon but said the Tribal Council is scheduled to discuss the issue during a meeting today.
Longtime New Mexico political observer Brian Sanderoff said the Republican Party would benefit from having news reporters present at the convention, largely because it would allow the speeches of party leaders to be more widely circulated.
“It is in the best interests of the Republican Party to make sure the media is allowed to cover the New Mexico Republican State Convention, given the importance of the meeting and the negative appearance that would be created if the meeting is not open to the public,” Sanderoff told the Journal.
At Saturday’s convention, officially called the 2016 quadrennial state convention, New Mexico Republicans will select 24 delegates to its national party convention in Cleveland in July.
There has been a surge of interest this year in being a national delegate, driven largely by a raucous Republican presidential primary race. New York billionaire Donald Trump is the party’s presumptive nominee, but some members of the GOP establishment have said they will not back Trump.
A total of 161 individuals have applied to be GOP delegates this year, nearly double the 81 applicants the party received in 2012, Keene said.
This weekend’s convention also will include a face-off for a Republican National Committeeman post between Pat Rogers, who has held the position since 2008, and Harvey Yates Jr., a former state GOP chairman who is trying to oust him. The Rogers-Yates race has divided party insiders and led to a fissure in the ranks of Republican lawmakers.
Yates, an oilman, has been an outspoken and persistent critic of Jay McCleskey, Gov. Susana Martinez’s political adviser, while Rogers, an Albuquerque attorney, has been linked to the Martinez administration and McCleskey.
Meanwhile, the media blackout comes less than two weeks after the state Republican Party announced plans to charge media representatives $100 to cover the convention. The GOP quickly reversed itself and said that reporters would not have to pay for a press pass.
Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said she hopes the Sandia media ban will be overturned, even though political parties are not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act.
“They’re clearly going to be talking about public business that will have a huge impact on life here in New Mexico,” Boe told the Journal of the convention’s attendees. “I can’t imagine a national convention not allowing the press to attend.”