Over 600 Republicans gathered for what on its face would be a non-controversial, easy convention on Saturday.
The Republican presidential primary is all but over, there are very few primaries for Republicans in legislative races (and none involving incumbents) and the party has already coalesced behind the three statewide candidates.
But the increasingly ugly race for the position of Republican National Committeeman between veteran Republican politicos Pat Rogers and Harvey Yates took center stage. It also turned out not to be very close.
Yates easily won election to the position on a 278 to 195 vote. When the results were announced, the convention hall filled with cheers for Yates.
Yates is a former chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico from 2009 to 2010. Rogers is an attorney and held the committeeman position for two terms.
Both Rogers and Yates made reference to the negative tone of the campaign during their brief speeches to delegates.
Rogers said the the last month made him regret that “Al Gore invented the internet.” (Gore never made that claim, though jokes at his expense over this have dogged him for years).
His quip went over better than Yates’ joke about calling for a new law outlawing “inbox abuse.”
Some of the acrimony behind the campaign made its way to the stage.
Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, appeared on stage to second Rogers’ nomination and he criticized Yates in a blistering attack.
“I’ve seen two basic groups of Republicans,” Cook said. “First, those who are focused on defeating Democrats. And second, those who are focused on themselves and their own agenda.”
Cook put Yates in the second category and warned that voting for Yates would mean the party would “forfeit their ability” to criticize Republicans who back Democrats.
Cook said that Yates supported Democrats against Republicans, and that he understood some legislators in the room backed Yates.
“They would not have done that if Mr. Yates had endorsed their Democrat opponents,” Cook said.
Cynthia Pearce, the wife of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, nominated Yates and took a more positive tone.
“I personally examine a candidate’s past experiences and performances and that is what I use to determine what makes that candidate my choice,” she said.
Her husband, who was unavailable because he was giving a commencement speech, sent a letter in support of Yates earlier this year.
Rogers told the media “I don’t see any issue with uniting” when asked about the party coming together.
While Rogers was speaking to media, Yates extended an olive branch and spoke to Rogers, pledging to work together.
He reiterated the pledge later in an interview with NM Political Report.
“Pat Rogers is a great guy and I like him,” he said.
Yates said he wrote a letter that said he will reach out to everyone who said something negative about him to work together this fall.
Yates also said that he is “open to working with anyone.”
“I’m open to working with Susana Martinez and John Sanchez,” he said. Yates has had a troubled relationship with Martinez and her top political adviser Jay McCleskey in the past.
“I will be out working for the party,” Rogers said when asked what was next. He said that he would work with every candidate, even Donald Trump.
Yates said he hopes to make sure more RNC resources come into the state to help Republicans.
Donald Trump’s National Delegate Director Brian Jack was on hand to watch proceedings and said he was “seeing unity” in Republicans.
But he reiterated something that he said during his nomination speech, saying that when he goes to each county, he wants Democrats to be invited to the table.
“Without them, we’re going nowhere,” he said.
Officials, candidates speak
Other elected officials spoke before the voting, including Martinez.
Martinez did not endorse either Rogers or Yates. Rogers has been close to her administration while Yates has been openly critical in the past.
Martinez focused on Democrats, specifically Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
“This isn’t Barack Obama’s country,” she said. “And it isn’t the Democratic Party’s country. And it certainly isn’t Hillary Clinton’s country.”
Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee for president.
Martinez then went on her usual stump speech, touting the cuts to manufacturing taxes, saying the state finally “ended the practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”
Nora Espinoza, the lone Republican candidate for Secretary of State, also spoke, spending most of her time blasting Maggie Toulouse Oliver, her Democratic opponent.
The biggest applause line Espinoza received was when she called for voter ID, saying it would help preserve the “sacred trust” of voting.
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez also spoke and criticized U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying he was telling young people they needed a “hand-out.”
Speaking in front of young Republicans, he said that they only needed a “hand up.”
None of the three mentioned Trump.
The county delegates also voted on statewide delegates who will be at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this July.
The party used electronic voting, either on smartphones or on iPads in a room dedicated to voting.
Jack remarked how much smoother the process was than in other states, some many of which use paper ballots.