One of New Mexico’s stalwart independent newspapers now belongs to a group of investors that includes prominent members of the state’s Republican Party.
The Rio Grande SUN announced Wednesday that publisher Robert Trapp has sold the paper, based for nearly 70 years in the longtime Democratic stronghold of Española, to a new partnership called El Rito Media LLC, which appears to have been formed last fall.
Its principals include former state Republican Party chairmen Ryan Cangiolosi and Harvey Yates, Jr. Yates is an oil executive who currently also served as the party’s national committeeman from 2016 through 2020, the president of Cibola Energy Corporation and Jalapeño Corporation, the later of which is also a named partner in the new media company, according to Santa Fe-based media brokerage firm Dirks, Van Essen & April.
In addition to his work for the state Republican Party, Cangiolosi also served as deputy chief of staff under Gov. Susana Martinez for nearly two years in the early 2010s. He now works as director of economic and community development for the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
Richard Connor has replaced Trapp as the paper’s publisher as of April 1. Dirks, Van Essen & April advised Trapp in the transaction, and the company says the sale price won’t be disclosed.
The SUN published its first issue on Oct. 5, 1956. Trapp’s parents, Robert E. and Ruth Trapp, and Bill and Hollie Birkett, founded the paper, the firm says, noting the Trapps later bought the Birketts’ interest.
“I watched my parents come to work every day, literally until the day they died,” Trapp said in a story published on the SUN website Wednesday. “No one owns a weekly newspaper. It owns you. I’ve got too many things I want to do before I die and I can’t do them and run a weekly newspaper.”
Two Santa Feans are among El Rito Media’s owners: Bryan Ortiz and Tom Wright, along with Santa Fe-based Los Moscositos LLC. Two years ago, Wright wrote a column in the Los Alamos Monitor that appeared under the headline “The Vandals are Winning,” decrying the Black Lives Matter movement, noting “If they were interested in making black lives matter, they would be concentrating on restoring the black family unit, lobbying to improving education for black youths and improving distressed black neighborhoods.”
Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde is also an owner. Sanchez, a former state legislator who is a registered Democrat with a conservative bent, gave up his seat in the Roundhouse to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2020. He’s trying to get back to the Legislature this year by running for the seat against incumbent Roger Montoya. Sanchez could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Sanchez is far from the first or only partisan to own a media company. Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis is an owner of thepaper., a weekly publication in the Duke City.
Francisco Romero of Albuquerque and Peyton Yates, a cousin to Harvey who lives in Artesia, are also among the SUN’s new owners, according to the firm. In 2010, Peyton Yates and Hanson Yates founded a company called Santo upon the successful sale of Yates Drilling Company, founded by Peyton’s father SP Yates, according to Santo’s website.
Common Cause New Mexico and New Mexico Ethics Watch identify Peyton Yates as a heavy hitting political contributor, among the top 20 oil and gas donors to state and federal candidates in New Mexico. Followthemoney.org reports that he chucked $51,400 into campaigns between 2017 and 2020 alone. Jalapeño Corp gave $68,352 in the same time period and Yates Legacy LLC funneled another $50,000.
The Yates family and its company primarily donate to Republican candidates and causes, the report from Common Cause and Ethics Watch says.