- Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The nomination of Hanna Skandera as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s secretary of education stalled on Monday, but she will continue to serve in her cabinet-level job.

The Rules Committee split 5-5 on whether to send Skandera’s nomination to the Senate for a confirmation vote without a recommendation on whether she should be confirmed.

The deadlock means that Skandera nomination will remain bottled up in the committee, with the Legislature set to adjourn on Thursday.

But nothing prevents Skandera from remaining as the top administrator in the agency that oversees New Mexico’s public schools. Had the 42-member Senate rejected her nomination, Skandera would have been forced to immediately leave her post.

After the committee vote, Skandera told reporters she had no plans to resign and described it as a “day of politics.”

“The disappointment is we’ve allowed politics to rule at the end of the day versus our kids,” she said. “I think I’ve demonstrated from start to finish that I’m committed to delivering for our kids, and nothing has changed.”

Skandera has drawn opposition from many Democrats and educational unions because of the governor’s school policies, including merit pay for teachers, a system for assigning grades of A-to-F for schools, a teacher evaluation system heavily based on student performance on standardized tests and a plan to hold back third-graders who can’t read proficiently.

Skandera’s critics also contend she doesn’t meet a constitutional requirement for the department secretary to be a “qualified, experienced educator.”

Skandera hasn’t worked as a public school teacher or administrator. She was a deputy commissioner of education in Florida when Jeb Bush was governor. She also was a senior policy adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings during President George W. Bush’s administration.

It’s rare for lawmakers to turn down a governor’s appointee for a high-level job. The Senate last rejected a department cabinet secretary in 1997, when GOP Gov. Gary Johnson was in office.

There are six Democrats and four Republicans on the committee. Only one Democrat spoke before a series of votes were taken.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez, a Grants Democrat, expressed frustration with the “fighting back and forth” over Skandera’s confirmation. The panel spent about 10 hours considering the nomination last year, but it never voted.

Sanchez complained that the state “has put the handcuffs on our education system and our teachers.” He objected to the teacher-evaluation system developed by the department.

“It’s time for our education system to move on,” he said.

Skandera told the committee that Martinez administration policies are starting to produce improved results in schools, including a higher high school graduation rate.

The committee initially turned down an effort by Republicans to send the nomination to the full Senate with a recommendation that Skandera be confirmed. All six Democrats opposed that.

Sanchez then asked the committee to recommend that the Senate reject Skandera’s nomination, but no vote was taken on that proposal because no other member agreed it should be considered.

Finally, the committee deadlocked on a move by Republicans to send the nomination to the Senate without a recommendation on whether Skandera be confirmed. Five Democrats opposed that effort. Republicans supported it along with Sanchez.

Senate GOP Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales said after the hearing that he thought Skandera would have won confirmation had the Senate been able to vote. Democrats hold a 25-17 advantage in the Senate.

“I think it’s basically political,” Ingle said in an interview. “That’s all it is.”

He said, “Every governor has the right to choose people for their cabinet. There’s been this constant protest because she does want to change some things.”


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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