- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Ideological soul searching and bitter infighting have erupted within New Mexico’s Republican Party - and it is not about Donald Trump.

A heated contest for one of New Mexico’s three positions on the Republican National Committee is dividing local GOP stalwarts as the party prepares on Saturday to pick its delegates to the national convention.

At stake is control over a direct line of communication with the National Committee and influence over the money and attention it can lavish on the local party infrastructure and election efforts.

The contest for the seat has veered into criticism of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and top political adviser Jay McCleskey, as two candidates accuse each other of unnecessarily dividing the party while exchanging barbs over each other’s age - one is 60, the other 74.

Seeking to extend his eight-year tenure on the Republican National Committee is Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers, known for decades of legal work on behalf of state political candidates, redistricting efforts, Republican voter access and presidential ballot-counting efforts.

Rogers, the younger candidate, said he has been able to cajole additional national party funds for New Mexico amid a string of statewide election victories in 2010 and 2014.

His challenger is former state Republican Party chairman Harvey Yates, a third-generation oilman from Artesia with an extended family of devout GOP patrons and fundraisers.

Yates sounded the alarm last month on New Mexico’s lagging economic and employment situation - saying that Republican victories, such as the 2014 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, are being squandered by those unwilling to compromise with conservative or moderate Democrats.

“We have the lowest job creation when compared with surrounding states, and we need to get that turned around,” Yates said. “That’s my interest in politics. Otherwise I would prefer to go sit and read and write.”

He lays much of the blame on Martinez adviser McCleskey for focusing too long on issues such as overhauling immigrant driver’s license regulations. Yates also described the administration as vengeful when it came to dissenting views from Republicans.

McCleskey dismissed the allegations, but he declined to comment further.

The governor’s office said in a statement that Yates was putting his own priorities ahead of the political platform that got Martinez re-elected in 2014. “Yates is a wealthy elitist who thought he could buy influence with the Martinez administration to further his agenda and is bitter that he was rebuffed,” the statement said.

Yates’ candidacy has garnered some support. Thirteen House Republican lawmakers recently endorsed Yates in a letter, invoking the party’s advances in 2010 when Yates was chairman.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, also supports Yates. He says Yates has “appealed to traditionally Democrat audiences in a fight for the heart and soul of the state.”

Rogers in turn has accused Yates of violating Ronald Reagan’s so-called 11th Commandment - speak no ill of a fellow Republican - and of other political betrayals.

“One thing that Republicans are tired of - as reflected strongly this year - is continuous surrendering of our principles to just get along with Democrats,” Rogers wrote to fellow Republicans.

Allies of both candidates have joined the fray in a cascade of group emails distributed to hundreds of Republican state delegates, rehashing years-old disputes within the party.

Rogers backer Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, wrote to Republicans that Yates would try to settle old scores and predicted more “fights that have nothing to do with promoting conservative causes.”

Yates said he wants to restore civility, but he also says the national committeeman should exercise more independence.

Rogers said he’s willing to say no to political advisers, including McCleskey.

In seeking another term on the National Committee, Rogers has the public backing of Republican National Committeewoman Rosie Tripp and at least eight leading House Republicans - including House Majority Leader Nate Gentry.

Both candidates stress the Republican Party’s disadvantage among New Mexico voters, with 31 percent registration statewide. Where Yates yearns for compromise, Rogers stressed the need for party unity behind Republican candidates and principles.

“If we don’t unify, we lose,” he said.

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