Says she's education secretary, even without Senate confirmation
Even without the New Mexico Senate’s vote of approval, Skandera, right, is calling herself secretary of public education.
Hers is a not-so-subtle dig at a Democrat in the Senate who waited two years to schedule Skandera’s confirmation hearing, then never held a vote on it.
Now publicists in Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration and Skandera herself have stopped referring to Skandera as “secretary-designate” of education. The designate title is for cabinet members still awaiting a confirmation vote by the Senate.
Skandera, 39, has been running the state Public Education Department for almost 2 1/2 years. Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, finally called Skandera for a confirmation hearing this year.
Lopez accepted 10 hours of public testimony and committee debate about Skandera. But then Lopez recessed the confirmation hearing without any vote on Skandera’s nomination.
Lopez, right, said she wanted more documents related to Skandera’s performance and management of the Public Education Department.
Lopez’s decision meant that the full 42-member Senate could not vote on whether Skandera should stay on the job or be removed from office.
Skandera has since bestowed a new title on herself. On the state Public Education Department website, she says: “As the secretary of education, I call on every educator, student, parent, community member and public servant to share in the responsibility for the success of our children...”
Skandera formerly listed herself as the department’s designated leader, pending Senate confirmation.
Her department’s publicity staff also has given Skandera a loftier title. In a press release distributed Thursday, PED spokesman Larry Behrens referred to Skandera as secretary of education.
Asked about Skandera receiving a new title, Behrens said he could not comment and that an explanation would have to come from the governor’s spokesman.
Enrique Knell, who is Martinez’s press secretary, did not answer a question about why Skandera’s title had been changed by the administration.
But in an email, Knell said: “Secretary Skandera has been in the job for more than two years and the Rules Committee has had ample opportunity to give her a vote on the Senate floor. The governor supports Secretary Skandera and the work she’s doing as her cabinet secretary for public education.”
Martinez publicly criticized Lopez in March for not bringing Skandera’s nomination to a vote before the 60-day legislative session ended.
Sen. Michael Sanchez, the leader of majority Democrats, said Skandera was never confirmed for the job and her title remains secretary-designate, no matter what websites or press handouts say.
“She should not be referred to as the secretary of education,” Sanchez said.
He said he wanted to give Skandera the benefit of the doubt that she had not authorized an unwarranted change in her own title.
But it is clear that the Public Education Department website was edited to make Skandera secretary of education, erasing her temporary title of “designate.”
“Teachers look at that website. I am surprised I have not been inundated with calls from them,” Sanchez said.
Of the 66 people who testified against Skandera being confirmed, many were teachers.
Skandera never has been a classroom teacher or principal. She held administrative jobs in the state education departments of California and Florida before Martinez nominated her for education secretary of New Mexico.
Sonya Romero, who teaches bilingual kindergarten classes at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque, was among those who opposed Skandera’s confirmation last winter. Romero said Skandera did not understand the challenges and demands that teachers face each day.
All 17 Senate Republicans were ready to back Skandera in a confirmation vote. The 25 Democrats were more guarded. Only one, Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces, disclosed that he would vote against Skandera if her nomination reached the floor.
Most Democrats said they did not know how they would vote until they listened to all the debate.