From the Roundhouse: “Mea Culpa”

February 17th, 2014 at 12:36 am by under Latest Posts, Politics

As I’m writing this, we’re hours away from a long-awaited, scheduled vote on the confirmation of Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera.

It’s been a long road to get here. Skandera was appointed to the post shortly after Governor Martinez was elected but has yet to have a full confirmation vote.

There were long hearings last year filled with hours of public comment and the controversial testimony of political investigator and operative Michael Corwin. And at the end of it all, the Senate Rules Committee failed to move Skandera’s confirmation out of committee to the full Senate.

SRC chair Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, told me Sunday afternoon that the plan is to hold that long awaited vote Monday morning with limited comment.

But while that issue has been circulating, the Senate is also looking at a constitutional amendment inextricably tied up in the politics surrounding Skandera’s confirmation.

That’s SJR 2, introduced by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque. SJR 2 eliminates the position of education secretary and replaces it with a state superintendent appointed by an elected state board. It’s cleared three committees, all on party-line votes. But there’s a back story that’s had a lot of veteran state senators backtracking saying “my bad” before the proposal gets a full floor vote. And if the proposal succeeds, there will be plenty of state reps doing the same thing.

Before 2003, New Mexico effectively had the arrangement Padilla’s proposing running New Mexico’s education system. But Governor Bill Richardson wanted more control over education policy after he was elected in 2002, so he pitched a constitutional amendment abolishing the board and replacing it with an appointed education secretary. Voters approved that changed 55 percent to 45 percent, but in order for it to get on the ballot, it needed state lawmakers approving the proposal.

Ironically, the bill that year was also SJR 2. In the Senate, the vote was an overwhelming 35-3 in favor of putting it on the ballot. The House okayed it 43-22.

As you might imagine, there are quite a few lawmakers serving now who were also serving way back then; 18 senators (one of whom, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, was a state rep) and 25 state representatives.

As I’m writing this, I’m missing the full roll call sheet from the 2003 Senate Journal. The only three senators who voted “No” on going to an education secretary were Sen. Lopez, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales. There were four absent senators, but it’s a better bet than not that most of the following list of other veteran lawmakers voted “Yes”; Sue Wilson Beffort, Pete Campos, Carlos Cisneros, Phil Griego, Gay Kernan, Carroll Leavell, Richard Martinez, Cisco McSorley, Mary Kay Papen, William Payne, John Pinto, Nancy Rodriguez, William Sharer and John Arthur Smith. Senator Cervantes voted with them as Representative Cervantes.

In case you don’t have your party affiliations memorized, that’s 10 current Democratic Senators who voted in favor of creating a Governor-appointed education secretary in 2003. Senators McSorley and Martinez already had to backtrack and vote to move a proposal forward to undo the change they approved forward. Senator Ingle had to reverse course and vote to preserve a system he voted against in the first place.

If the current SJR 2 survives a tough Senate fight, it’s the same story in the House.

There were 7 current Republican representatives who voted “No” on creating an education secretary in 2003 that would likely fight to keep that change in place 11 years later. There were 14 current Democratic representatives who voted “Yes” on that same idea who would likely fight to bring back a system they supported getting rid of.

Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola, was excused from that vote. The only Democrat who hasn’t flip flopped is Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, who voted “No” in 2003. For the Republicans, Rep. Thomas Taylor, R-Farmington, can make the same claim of consistency.

It’s interesting how support of administration control over who’s running education changes depending on whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican occupying the 4th floor of the Roundhouse. Should be interesting to hear if the issue comes up during any floor debate on SJR 2.

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