Proposed Ballot Measure Could Put New Mexico’s Skandera on Thin Ice

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 19, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A proposed ballot measure pending in the New Mexico Senate could spell bad news for Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera, after a long-running battle between Skandera and Democrats in the state.

Senate Joint Resolution 2 was pre-filed in the state legislature for its 2014 session by Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla. The purpose of the resolution is to establish an elected, nonpartisan state board of education with 10 members. These members, in turn, would have the power to select a “qualified, experienced educational administrator” as New Mexico’s new state superintendent. Right now, the state’s governor has the power to pick New Mexico’s superintendent.

GOP Gov. Susana Martinez’s choice of Skandera, who used to work for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on education policy and has taught as a university professor, has provoked a three-year battle in which Democrats and teachers have warred with Skandera over issues such as her proposed changes to teacher evaluation, a subject that has gotten national attention. Some lawmakers have questioned whether Skandera even has a sufficient resume to officially qualify for the post. So now, she’s currently serving as the state superintendent but hasn’t been officially confirmed by legislators--hence the “designate” attachment to her title.

As the New Mexico TV station KQRE points out, Padilla’s Democratic counterparts in the House plan to introduce a similar proposal. Lawmakers behind the proposal will be able to skirt Martinez if it passes muster in the legislature, since it won’t need her signature. The plan would ultimately go to voters as a ballot measure. Not surprisingly, Martinez indicated her displeasure to KQRE, saying that she didn’t see the point of taking “20 steps backwards.” (For what it’s worth, Padilla claimed his resolution wasn’t designed to explicitly take down Skandera.)

What did Martinez mean by that exactly? A decade ago, then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, successfully convinced voters to approve a measure that essentially eliminated the power of the state school board, and consolidated more power in the state’s executive branch. There’s a public education commission in New Mexico, but all practical K-12 state authority rests in Skandera’s hands. Will it be back to the future for the Land of Enchantment?

Skandera isn’t the only state chief to be experiencing this sort of power struggle. There’s a power struggle going on between Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Indiana school board, in the course of which Ritz, a Democrat, has expressed the fear that she’ll be stripped of her power by GOP officials, or officials appointed by Republicans like state board members.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.