From the Roundhouse: Limbo

February 18th, 2014 at 12:11 am by under Latest Posts, Politics

There are a lot of topics at the legislature that aren’t interesting, but are important. There are also plenty of things that aren’t important, but are interesting.

The never-ending Hanna Skandera confirmation fight is politically fascinating to watch play out, but for all the grandstanding it has no practical effect on education policy or anything else but a job title. Like the dozens of memorials the Senate approves each session, the Senate’s vote on an appointee is more of a statement than anything else.

At this point, I’m sure everyone has a good sense of the background on this battle. Governor Martinez appointed Skandera to serve as Public Education Secretary shortly after she was elected in 2010. Skandera’s job experience is in both the private and public sector. She’s served under both Jeb and George Bush in different roles.

Critics have pointed to her lack of any K-12 teaching experience as disqualifying her for the job (a trait she shares with current US Education Secretary Arne Duncan). Under the State Constitution, the public education secretary needs to be a “qualified, experienced educator”. Teachers unions and Democratic opponents have argued Skandera doesn’t fit the bill, while Republicans say “educator” can be interpreted more broadly and doesn’t specify K-12 classroom experience.

There’s also the ongoing fight over whether Skandera and the Governor’s education reforms are helping or hurting in the classroom (both with student results and with teachers wanting to teach).

That battle’s played itself out in the Skandera confirmation fight over the course of the last two sessions. Last year, Senate Rules took hours upon hours of time taking in testimony, sometimes in controversial ways, but held off on a vote.

Nearly a year later, that vote finally happened, but for all the buzz, the result was nothing happening.

On a 6-4 party-line vote, Democrats rejected a “Do Pass” motion on Skandera’s confirmation. Then there was dead silence.

Minutes after, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, offered the exact opposite motion a “Do Not Pass”. That was followed by…. crickets.

Both sides stared at each other, but nobody seconded meaning the motion failed.

Then, a motion Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, says is a “kiss your sister” kind of vote. The dreaded “No Recommendation”.

That would’ve moved the confirmation vote forward but, I’m speculating here, there were fears that a full Senate vote on Skandera’s confirmation would have been close or would have succeeded.

Democrats didn’t take that chance and the vote deadlocked 5-5.

What does that mean? Like any bill with a tied vote…. Skandera is stuck in limbo once more.

But for all of the talk that Skandera’s confirmation was “blocked” Monday, the vote also allows her to continue serving as public education secretary as long as her business cards have “-designate” thrown on after secretary. As we mentioned on-air Monday, even if the Senate voted not to confirm her, the Governor could still keep her in charge of PED.

And on top of all that, Skandera herself made the point that even if she left the post, the Governor herself isn’t going anywhere until the end of the year at the earliest. Because the education secretary position is still under executive control (something Democrats are fighting to change), Governor Martinez’s policies remain no matter who she appoints as long as she’s in office. That means Skandera’s “limbo”, while frustrating for just about everyone involved, doesn’t have a practical effect.

A change in direction, if that’s what the state wants, is more likely to come in November than at a committee hearing in February. And that fact, is partly what’s driving a lot of what’s happening in Santa Fe this session.



SB 268

I got into the background of the battle on this bill in an earlier blog post, and you’ll probably need to read that to understand what’s going on here.

The floor fight late Sunday night over SB 268 was as promised. It’s a pitched battle between the hospitals and the counties themselves (with a healthy dose of administration dislike thrown in there).

The bill that made it to the floor was in line with what the hospitals wanted, a proposal for 1/8th cent GRT. But after a lengthy battle, it was amended back to 1/12th cent GRT on a narrow (and definitely not party-line) vote.

As expected, that infuriated Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, who promptly proposed an amendment of his own to drag Bernalillo and Sandoval counties back into the bill (they are currently exempted). After brief debate, Munoz withdrew the proposal.

Then Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, addressed concerns that the state share of the funding needed for the hospitals was $9 million short by adding an amendment that requires HSD to find $9 million in its budget to make up the difference.  Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, warned that there was a good chance Governor Martinez would look at line-item vetoing the section.

After all of the changes, the bill moved forward on a 38-4 vote. As Senators left the floor, Munoz told me he expects an even tougher fight over the 1/12th vs. 1/8th cent proposals in the House. It’s definitely a bill I’m tracking with just two and a half days left in the session.

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