Pearce faces challengers for GOP leadership after disappointing midterms

Dec. 1—After a bruising midterm election in which Republicans not only failed to make gains but lost their only congressional seat in the state, Steve Pearce will try to hold on as chairman of the New Mexico GOP for a third term during an internal election Saturday in Las Cruces.

Pearce, a former congressman and state representative who has served as state Republican Party chairman since losing the 2018 gubernatorial race, is facing four challengers, including a conservative radio host with a loyal following and a former state House member who has chaired the Republican Party of Bernalillo County.

The election of party leadership comes amid a movement within the party to replace Pearce after Republicans' poor showing in the Nov. 8 midterm election.

"People are just tired of losing," Eddy Aragon, CEO of the Rock of Talk radio station and one of the contenders for the chairmanship, said Wednesday.

"We're very good at complaining but very bad at getting anything done," added Aragon, who called Pearce "a proven loser" who at age 75 is "too old" to be running a party.

Pearce said he's made inroads as state party chairman, increasing Republican turnout and closing the gap in legislative races.

"We're making progress," he said. "It's not as fast as maybe all of us want, but it's definitely progress."

Turning New Mexico into a red state is a multiyear process, he said.

"The task we've got in New Mexico is one that many states have faced," he said. "Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana — several have been deep blue, and so this business of changing a state is a little more complex than just winning elections."

Pearce said he understands the "long-term nature" of what the GOP needs to do in New Mexico.

"The other states say if you change your party chairs every two years, then you're never going to get there because you'll have to rebuild a machine every couple of years, you'll have to rebuild the whole organizational structure," he said.

The candidates running to replace Pearce are:

* Sarah Jane Allen, first vice chair of the Republican Party of Bernalillo County.

"The events of 2020 lit a fire within her," according to a biography that was provided to GOP state central committee members ahead of the election.

"Governor [Michelle Lujan] Grisham's abuse of power has crippled our businesses, schools, and sense of community," the bio states. "Sarah Jane is committed to making sure government bureaucrats are stripped of unilateral power such as lockdowns and mandates."

Allen's bio also says the married mother of six has led the fight for better education in New Mexico.

"She founded the first Moms for Liberty chapter in New Mexico to organize parents and combat leftwing indoctrination in schools," it says. "In 2021, she successfully helped school board candidates run for the Albuquerque Public School Board. The school board is more conservative than it has been in 25 years."

* Aragon, the conservative radio host.

"Eddy has spent the last ten years building a platform focused on talk radio programming and developing new ways of consuming audio entertainment, including news and music," his bio states.

Aragon, who finished third in a three-way race for mayor of Albuquerque in 2021, is an 11th generation New Mexican with bachelor's degrees in political science and economics from the University of New Mexico, according to his bio. In addition to running for mayor of Albuquerque, Aragon unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District to fill a vacancy during a special election last year. He also ran for chairman of the New Mexico GOP two years ago and narrowly lost to Pearce.

* Robert A. Aragon, an Albuquerque attorney who served three terms in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

"My ties to New Mexico run deep, having had family in New Mexico for 17 generations," his bio states. "I know New Mexico!"

In addition to serving in the Legislature, Robert Aragon has been a member and president of the Eastern New Mexico University Board of Regents and vice chairman of the Albuquerque City Charter Revision Task Force, among other leadership roles. Aragon has also served as first vice chairman of the state GOP and chair of the Republican Party of Bernalillo County.

A graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law, he is married to Peggy Muller-Aragon, a member of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education.

* Rodney Tahe, a legislative adviser for the Navajo Nation.

Tahe, 45, did not submit a bio ahead of Saturday's election. He recently told The New Mexican he has been a registered Republican since age 18.

"I think it's time for a change," Tahe, of Gallup, said. "Steve Pearce has had four years."

In his bio, Pearce described himself as a former congressman and decorated combat pilot who served in the Vietnam War. It points out the

2nd Congressional District, which he used to represent, was the second-poorest in the country, 60 percent minority,

52 percent Hispanic and just 34 percent Republican, "all indicating that he works well with constituents who have very divergent views and politics."

Pearce has had less luck as state party chairman. During last month's midterms, Republicans failed to win any statewide offices, and the only Republican in New Mexico's congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, lost reelection to Democrat Gabe Vasquez, a former Las Cruces city councilor.

Eddy Aragon accused Pearce of "doing nothing" to help Republican Mark Ronchetti in the governor's race.

"We had a lot of money raised and a lot of opportunity wasted behind our best gubernatorial candidate that I can think of that we've ever had that hasn't won," Aragon said. "Michelle Lujan Grisham has another four years, and nobody can complain about that. We lost. She has the right to rule and do whatever she wants because we couldn't get ourselves organized."

During Saturday's election, the party's state central committee, comprised of about 500 members, will also vote for a first and second vice chair, secretary and treasurer, as well as a vice chairperson for each congressional district.

The results of the election, which will be conducted in private at an undisclosed location, are expected to be announced Saturday afternoon.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.