Harvey Yates, oil magnate and a former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, says fear motivates him.

It’s the reason he’s donating money to centrist or conservative Democrats running in deep-blue state legislative districts.

“I’m 80 years old and about to head home from my office in Albuquerque. I’m afraid of what might happen, so I’m packing a gun. That’s a sad commentary on our system,” Yates said one recent night.

“Progressives are responsible for a lot of the crime problems we have in New Mexico. When I can help other candidates, I’m going to step up.”

Through his Jalapeño Corp., Yates donated $5,000 each to Joseph Sanchez and Marlo Martinez, who are challenging incumbents in the June 7 Democratic primary election.

Sanchez is running against Rep. Roger Montoya, of Velarde, in District 40. Martinez’s opponent in District 41 is Rep. Susan Herrera of Embudo.

Yates says he also contributed $5,000 to Democrat Henry Roybal, though that donation was not listed on the state’s recent campaign reports. Roybal hopes to unseat Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, in House District 46.

“I’ve heard the contribution is coming. I haven’t seen it yet,” Roybal said. “I really don’t know Harvey Yates. I met him once.”

Across the past dozen years, Yates has showered hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Republican Party, its PACs and candidates. He donated to everyone from former Gov. Susana Martinez to candidates trying to become judges, prosecutors, legislators, sheriffs, auditors and county commissioners.

Rarely did Yates send money to Democrats. According to state records, before this spring, his most recent donation to a Democrat was in 2015, when he contributed $1,500 to conservative state Sen. George Muñoz.

This year has been different for Yates. He said all five Republican candidates for governor have asked for his support, but he has not committed to anyone so far.

“They would all do a better job than what we have,” Yates said in a slap at Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Yates might be wedged in a tough spot when it comes to the governor’s campaign. He has warred with Jay McCleskey, a paid adviser to the best-known Republican gubernatorial candidate, former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti.

“I’ve had long-term issues with McCleskey. I do like Mark personally,” Yates said.

While Yates continues evaluating the Republicans running for governor, he is helping Democratic legislative candidates in districts where he sees a chance to defeat more liberal lawmakers.

Yates claims his approach can help lower the crime rate.

He blames Democrats in the Legislature for a constitutional amendment on bail reform that was pushed by Charles Daniels, the late chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court.

“Daniels,” Yates said in disgust. “He got it passed.”

Yates’ criticism is wrongheaded. The amendment for bail reform was placed on the ballot in 2016 by the state Senate and the House of Representatives. Republicans at that time controlled the House, which voted 69-0 to send Daniels’ proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people.

Eighty-seven percent of the electorate approved the bail amendment, one of the more lopsided outcomes in state history.

No less an authority on crime and punishment than Judith Nakamura said voters made the right decision. Nakamura is a Republican and a retired justice of the state Supreme Court.

“Before Justice Daniels led the way on pretrial reform, the most dangerous defendants and those most likely to flee before trial could buy their way out of jail with a money bail bond,” Nakamura once said. “Reforms promoted by Justice Daniels allow judges to properly distinguish between truly dangerous defendants who should stay in jail pretrial and lower-risk defendants who under our laws should remain free until a trial determines whether they are guilty.”

Of course, the legal system is no better than the judges and prosecutors running it. Judges sometimes have freed dangerous defendants. Often overlooked is whether district attorneys appeared in court with full command of a violent defendant’s criminal history.

In targeting Democratic incumbents, Yates finds himself in an unusual alliance with two state legislators.

Democratic Reps. Patty Lundstrom of Gallup and Harry Garcia of Grants are trying to defeat most of the same incumbents whom Yates considers a hindrance.

Lundstrom has donated $1,000 each to Democratic challengers Sanchez, Roybal and Marlo Martinez.

Garcia contributed $1,000 each to those three candidates and a fourth challenger, Florence Miera. Miera is running against Rep. Kristina Ortez. Both those candidates are from Taos.

“It’s nothing personal,” Garcia said of his opposition to four incumbents with whom he serves. “I don’t agree with them on economic development issues. I’m not going to get into details. I just see it differently.”

In some instances, the incumbents targeted for defeat by Garcia and Lundstrom are getting help from top House Democrats.

Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, sent $5,700 from his campaign account to Rep. Romero and $5,200 to Rep. Herrera, according to state records.

Outgoing House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, allocated in-kind contributions of $925 to $1,020 to Herrera, Romero and Rep. Montoya.

The speaker was more generous with Reena Szczepanski, his handpicked successor in House District 47.

Egolf personally donated $5,000 to Szczepanski, though she has no opponent in the primary or general elections. Szczepanski, who was Egolf’s chief of staff, received $46,000 in contributions in less than one month as a candidate.

Ruby-red oilman Yates and true-blue attorney Egolf don’t have much in common politically.

The color of money appears to be one exception.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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