The former Dem is hoping to oust the Republican leader

Nov. 18 – “Amarillo” Steve Pearce was never popular with Santa Fe Democrats. Nor is he the pick of Santa Fe’s top Republican.

Santa Fe County Republican Party chairman Bob Graham will not endorse Pearce for a third term as chairman of the New Mexico GOP.

“I will support Robert Aragon,” said Graham. “We need a different vision. The results of the last three elections are not good. Leadership and advisors need to change. It’s nothing personal, but sometimes tough decisions have to be made.”

Pearce led the Republican ticket as a candidate for governor in 2018. He lost the race for an open seat by 100,000 votes, or 14 percentage points. Pearce has since been chairman of the ailing Republican Party.

The GOP fell to its lowest point last week. Republican candidates failed in all nine contentious statewide elections for administrative and judicial seats. The Republicans lost the state auditor election because Pearce could not find a candidate.

Those defeats weren’t Pearce’s biggest blow. First-term Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell, one of his protégés, lost her seat in the rigged 2nd Circuit. Democrats will take all three of New Mexico’s seats in the US House of Representatives. The state’s two US senators are also Democrats.

In the state capitol, Democrats control the governorship and both houses of the legislature. House Republicans have been at a 25-45 disadvantage for the past four years.

“It’s a testament to the fact that Steve Pearce doesn’t know what he’s doing, but also to the excellence of our own candidates and our campaign organization,” said House Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque.

Aragon has a similar assessment of Republican futility. “We are becoming an afterthought in politics. We haven’t won in three election cycles and the state can’t afford that. We need a strong two-party system.”

Pearce, 75, is a native Texan and judging by his oilman’s views. He once moved a New Mexico Republican convention to Amarillo, claiming Texas was giving his party more freedom. His strategy was odd, given that Albuquerque was hosting a special congressional election.

Republican Senator Mark Moores went to the Amarillo Confab while trying to convince New Mexicans to send him to Congress. Democrat Melanie Stansbury slammed Moores. No one in Texas cared about Moores’ loss.

Aragon, 65, is a former Democrat with a string of losses of his own. Most recently, he won an election to the state House of Representatives in 1984. He inherited the seat, initially by agreement, as the successor to his father, Bennie Aragon. The overthrow of Robert Aragon in a Democratic primary in 1986 came amid complaints that he had joined a Conservative coalition.

Aragon lost a race for Congress as a Democrat before finally switching to the Republican Party in 2012. Desperate for a candidate, the GOP persuaded Aragon to run for state auditor in 2014.

Democrat Tim Keller defeated Aragon. They agreed on little but forged a bond.

Aragon’s 30-year-old daughter, Amberlee, died in a car accident two months after the election. Keller offered his condolences to his former rival. “That was the nicest card you’ve ever read,” Aragon said, still touched by Keller’s gesture.

Keller was elected mayor of Albuquerque in 2017. Aragon lost a race for Albuquerque City Council that same year.

Aragon said he would never run for public office again. But he is challenging Pearce for the Republican presidency to rebuild a party in disarray.

Aragon’s plan is to ensure Republicans run in all elections, including impartial campaigns for local and school boards. He sees these lower races as building blocks for fielding strong candidates in general, gubernatorial and congressional elections.

Most importantly, he says, GOP candidates need to connect with people who hired his page. “Right now, the Republican Party isn’t relevant because our message isn’t getting across to voters in New Mexico,” Aragon said.

As a boy, Aragon was dyslexic and had a speech impediment. He mentions this in passing, but as a metaphor for perseverance. He became an attorney and served on the State Board of Finance, as Regent of Eastern New Mexico University, and on transition teams for Republican and Democratic governors.

So far, Pearce and Aragon are the only candidates for the presidency. The election will take place in Las Cruces on December 3rd.

Pearce, popular in rural areas and especially in his old congressional district in southern New Mexico, remains a contender. He’s also the Democrats’ punching bag of choice.

“Steve Pearce is doing an amazing job leading the New Mexico GOP. Steve has my full and unreserved support for another two years!” State House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, wrote on Twitter this week.

It has come to this. Pearce is dotted by Liberals and Conservatives who usually disagree on nothing.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at [email protected] or 505-986-3080.