By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – After all the drama, all the scalding criticism from opponents and impassioned praise from supporters, Hanna Skandera‘s official title remains the same.
She’s still the secretary-designate of the New Mexico Public Education Department – neither confirmed nor rejected by the state Senate.
Instead, the Senate Rules Committee, where confirmation hearings are held, failed on Monday to give Skandera a “do-pass” recommendation as all six Democrats on the committee voted no and all four Republicans voted yes.
A subsequent “do not confirm” motion from Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, failed to be seconded by anyone on the committee and then, in a third and final option, a “do pass” with no recommendation deadlocked in a 5-5 tie with Sanchez joining Republicans in voting yes.
“We’ve exhausted our options,” rules committee chairwoman Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said.
So, in sum, instead of having the full Senate vote up or down on Skandera’s confirmation, the process remains stuck in legislative limbo. Skandera will remain secretary-designate overseeing the day-to-day operations of PED and trying to implement Gov. Susana Martinez ‘s reform measures.
“I think I’ve demonstrated from start to finish that I’m dedicated to delivering for our kids and nothing has changed,” Skandera told reporters after the committee meeting.
Asked if not being confirmed may undermine her credibility in office, Skandera said, “I can focus on a vote today or focus on the commitment to this state and this governor and that’s what I’ll do. I’ve done it for three years and I’ll do it again.”
Skandera’s confirmation has been one of the hottest political topics in the state and in the legislature ever since she was appointed at the start of Martinez’s tenure as governor in January of 2011.
In the 2013 session, Lopez held hearings that brought Skandera before the rules committee three separate times but a confirmation vote was never held.
Teachers unions and many educators across the state have denounced Skandera on a number of fronts, including her backing of a statewide A-through-F grading system (that passed the 2011 legislature), holding back third-graders who cannot read at a minimal level (which has not passed) and implementing a teacher evaluation system by department order.
Detractors also point to the New Mexico Constitution that says the PED must be a “qualified, experienced educator.” Skandera has never been a classroom teacher.
Supporters say she meets the qualifications since Skandera worked as a senior policy adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and was a deputy commissioner for Florida’s Department of Education under then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
They also credit Skandera for making changes aimed at improving the state’s long history of lackluster results in public education.
“We have to make education work better in the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, sitting next to Skandera as the sponsor of her confirmation at Monday’s hearing. “It’s worth it to try new things. That is the only way to know if it will work.”
“We need to move on,” Sanchez said during the hearing. “I agree with some of your initiatives but disagree with others, like the teacher evaluation system … I think it’s unfair to teachers.”
No other Democrats on the committee asked questions at Monday’s hearing — which lasted only about 20 minutes — but Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said in a Twitter message after the hearing, “I will not endorse the political/ideological policies of this administration that put politcs over kids.”
After the hearing, Skandera said she never thought of stepping down.
“When I’m out on the national level, this and the circus that it’s been comes up,” the 40-year-old said. “I’d rather be talking about our kids and not a circus and our legislature.”
If Martinez is re-elected in November, a Skandera hearing may come up in next year’s session.
Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of Skandera talking to reporters after the hearing:
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski