Senate must give hearing to secretary-designate of education
Time has marched on for Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of public education in New Mexico.
She has been running a large, complex state department for almost two years, but has yet to receive a confirmation hearing from the Senate Rules Committee.
In contrast, Gov. Susana Martinez chose Gregg Marcantel to lead the state prison system in November 2011. He got a hearing before the Rules Committee and was confirmed by the Senate less than three months later.
Marcantel, a straight-shooting, plain-talking former Marine and lawman, is easy to like.
The repeated delays in dealing with Skandera were a clear signal that many Democrats in the 42-member Senate were not willing to accept her, but they did not have the votes to defeat her.
Come January and the start of another legislative session, they will have to give Skandera a hearing. Otherwise, the very need for a confirmation process comes into question. Why bother with a review by the Senate if the Rules Committee simply sits back, leaving a nominee in purgatory?
Emotions about Skandera run strong for many reasons.
A bill, modeled after a Florida program but endorsed by Martinez and Skandera, calls for state-ordered retention of thousands of third-graders in the bottom tier on reading scores. It is controversial and divisive.
Many legislators dislike the idea of forced retentions, saying they will do more harm than good. The Martinez/Skandara group has shown no sign of backing down, even though Republicans usually say local governments should be handling school-based decisions, rather than the state big-footing them.
Then there is the A-F system of grading schools. A member of Skandera's administrative team, Paul Aguilar, publicly said only five people in the state understand the intricacies of the grading model.
His comment might have been hyperbole, but it stuck like glue to the Skandera team, an insider admitting that the grading model is so convoluted principals and school superintendents cannot grasp it.
Another factor that could come into play is Skandera's practical experience. She has never been a classroom teacher or a principal. But now she could answer that she has been supervising the Public Education Department for two years, a job bigger than any held by a school superintendent in New Mexico.
With a 60-day session and plenty of discontent swirling around her, 39-year-old Skandera is going to get her day in the Senate.
Will she be one of those rare nominees that the Senate rejects? Time, perhaps no longer on her side, will tell.
A governor's choice for a significant position last was scotched by the Senate in 2010.
Then-governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat, selected Neri Holguin for the state Environmental Improvement Board.
Holguin, who runs campaigns for Democrats, made it through the Rules Committee with a positive recommendation. But once on the floor, senators rejected her nomination 25-17.
Before that, one has to go back to 1997 for cases of the Senate turning down a governor's nominees.
It rejected Dona Wilpolt as secretary of corrections and Michael Bennett for a seat on the Law Enforcement Academy Board. Then-governor Gary Johnson, who was a Republican, nominated those two.
Skandera could get the Senate's support. Or she could be rejected by the body.
It is too soon to know how the votes will stack up. But clear enough is that the Senate Rules Committee and Skandera finally will be face to face in 2013.