Skandera says she won't campaign on own behalf for confirmation
Hanna Skandera needs the votes of 21 state senators to remain in charge of New Mexico’s Public Education Department, but she says she will not spend a minute campaigning.
“I don’t consider my job to be politicking,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
Skandera has run the education department since Republican Gov. Susana Martinez appointed her in January 2011. But the Democrat-controlled state Senate still has not voted on whether to confirm Skandera or fire her.
Sen. Linda Lopez, right, D-Albuquerque, said she would finally hold a vote on Skandera early next year in her Senate Rules Committee. After the committee vote, the full Senate would consider Skandera’s nomination.
Skandera would keep her job if at least 21 of the 42 senators supported her. A 21-21 tie would mean Republican Lt. Gov. John Sanchez would break the deadlock. Sanchez would put Skandera over the top.
Democrats have a 25-17 advantage in the Senate. If Skandera received the votes of all the Republicans, which is likely, she would need support from four Democrats to be confirmed.
Skandera said she would not attempt to line up votes in the two months before the legislative session starts.
“I’m going to approach everything the same way, do my job and stay focused on helping kids,” she said.
Skandera, 39, has never been a teacher or a principal. She worked in state education departments in California and Florida before Martinez selected her for New Mexico’s top job in public education.
Lopez, who is running for governor, actually started Skandera’s confirmation hearing last winter. Lopez accepted 10 hours of testimony across three days before stopping the process without a vote.
After a recess of 10 months, Lopez has promised to resume the hearing and hold a vote on Skandera during the 30-day legislative session that begins Jan. 21.
More than 150 people testified last winter that Skandera should not be confirmed. About as many supported her.
A handful of Republicans in the House of Representatives even attended the Senate hearing to speak up for Skandera.
Skandera’s lack of experience in schools was the primary criticism leveled against her.
Most senators have not revealed how they would vote on Skandera. An exception is Democratic Sen. Bill Soules, a high school teacher from Las Cruces. He said he would vote against Skandera because she was bad for schools and kids.
During a legislative hearing on education finances earlier this week, Skandera received a mix of praise and criticism, all of it along party lines.
Rep. Don Tripp, R-Socorro, told Skandera he appreciated her work and said she was doing a good job.
In contrast, Democrats criticized her for being political in matters of education policy.
Sen. Howie Morales said Skandera had implemented teacher evaluation policies tied to standardized tests and pushed for teacher merit pay without bringing those ideas before interim legislative committees. Morales, D-Silver City, also is running for governor.
Skandera said she believed existing law permitted her to start a new evaluation system. She said she would not say more than that because Morales was among a group of legislators that had sued her over teacher evaluations.
Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, said he hoped that Skandera and Martinez would try to achieve consensus with legislators on important policy matters.
“As headstrong as you are, and as headstrong as we are, we have to come together,” Varela said.
If Lopez can get 22 votes against Skandera in the Senate, there will be no coming together.