SANDIA PUEBLO – Harvey Yates Jr. defeated incumbent Pat Rogers for a state post on the Republican National Committee on Saturday, elevating an outspoken critic of Gov. Susana Martinez’s governing style to a prestigious – if largely symbolic – GOP position.
At the New Mexico Republican convention at the Sandia Resort and Casino, Yates received 278 of the 473 votes cast by Republican delegates – or 58.8 percent – to oust Rogers.
A former state Republican Party chairman, Yates has been critical of Martinez and her political adviser, Jay McCleskey, in recent years, while Rogers has been closely linked to both the Martinez administration and McCleskey.
However, Yates downplayed talk of GOP discord after his victory over Rogers, who had held the Republican National Committeeman post since 2008.
“We can bring the party to unity, but come the next gubernatorial election, if (the economy) isn’t changed, we’re going to be held accountable,” Yates told the Journal.
Rogers, an Albuquerque attorney, said it had been an “honor” to hold the post with the RNC, a deep-pocketed national group.
He also told reporters that he didn’t foresee any lingering aftereffects of the internal party rifts.
“The important thing is the November general election and addressing the clear and present danger that is Hillary Clinton,” said Rogers, referring to the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In the runup to Saturday’s convention, the race between Rogers and Yates had divided GOP lawmakers and party insiders.
In his Saturday remarks in support of Rogers, Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, blasted Republican legislators who endorsed Yates, pointing out that Yates had backed a Democratic lawmaker – former Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings of Roswell – in a 2012 race.
“They would not have done that if Mr. Yates had endorsed their Democratic opponent,” said Cook, referring to what he described as “situational ethics.”
But Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, a Yates supporter, dismissed the claim, while also saying that intraparty disagreements are normal during primary elections.
“Primaries are never kumbaya,” Montoya said.
In addition to the national committeeman contest, New Mexico Republicans also decided at Saturday’s quadrennial convention whom to send as national delegates to the national convention in Cleveland in July.
The state’s 24 delegates include three automatic slots – state party Chairwoman Debbie Maestas and both a national committeeman and national committeewoman. The national committeewoman is Rosie Tripp, who was unopposed Saturday.
Gov. Martinez spoke at the beginning of Saturday’s convention but did not stick around for delegate voting.
The two-term governor did not mention the Yates-Rogers race in her remarks. Some political analysts have suggested that the contest could be viewed as a referendum on both her and McCleskey, a political strategist who has drawn both praise and fierce criticism for his hard-hitting campaign techniques.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez called on Republicans to come together after the race between Rogers and Yates.
“The battle is not in this room today among Republicans,” Sanchez said Saturday, calling on Republicans to turn their attention to the upcoming general election.
However, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who will hold a public campaign event Tuesday in Albuquerque, was rarely mentioned by name by GOP candidates and party officials during Saturday’s convention.
Brian Jack, Trump’s national delegate director, was present for the convention and praised it as being well-run and -organized.
He also said Trump’s campaign had prompted a surge of interest among New Mexico Republicans seeking to be elected as delegates to the national GOP convention.
The Democratic Party of New Mexico, which will hold its state convention next month, released a statement Saturday criticizing the state Republican Party for backing Trump. The state GOP has said that it looks forward to having Trump in the state and would work with him if he’s the nominee.
New Mexico will hold its primary election June 7. In addition to Trump, former President Bill Clinton will also be in the state next week, stumping for Hillary Clinton, his wife, in Española and Albuquerque.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also held three rallies in New Mexico this week, including one in the southern New Mexico town of Vado on Saturday.