The state Senate voted 22 to 19 on Monday afternoon to approve the nomination of Hanna Skandera to the position of Secretary of the Public Education Department.
All Republican members of the chamber voted to confirm along with five Democrats. One Democrat did not vote.
Skandera was perhaps the most controversial pick by Susana Martinez to serve in her cabinet. Her nomination passed the Senate Rules Committee earlier in the day then passed the full Senate later in the afternoon.
“Education is the most important part of everything we do in here,” Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said. Ingle sponsored Skandera’s nomination.
The confirmation came after nearly two hours of debate, where Democrats questioned Skandera’s qualifications and the reforms that she has implemented over the past four years. Republicans said that something new needed to be tried in New Mexico because the state’s educational system ranks so low.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said he did not believe Skandera was qualified under the state constitution, which requires a “qualified, experienced educator.”
“If we allow this nominee to go forward, then i the future we can do it for anyone if they don’t meet the qualifications,” Michael Sanchez said.
Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, said she believed that Skandera was a qualified educator, because educator does not necessarily mean teacher, but someone with a background in education.
“That’s what Secretary Skandera’s background is, in the education policy arena,” Wilson Beffort said.
Sen. Mark Moores, D-Albuquerque agreed and said the constitution is vague on what defines a qualified educator.
“We are the one who define that term, the 42 of us in this room,” Moores said.
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, was critical of some big-name national Democrats on education policy. These names are frequently brought up by those who support Skandera’s efforts.
“Arne Duncan is no more qualified to be secretary of education as Hanna Skandera is,” Ortiz y Pino said. He said that Duncan was put into place by “moneyed interests” like Bill Gates, a major funder of Common Core.
“Bill Gates blows his whistle and Arne marches,” Ortiz y Pino said. He said in New Mexico, “Pearson blows her whistle and [Skandera] marches.”
Michael Sanchez said the in the past, a nominee by Bill Richardson was rejected “for partisan political purposes.” He said he didn’t hear of anyone on the other side of the aisle saying that Richardson deserved his appointee to be confirmed.
He was referring to Neri Holguin, who was up for a position on the Environmental Improvement Board. She failed on a 25-17 vote.
Republicans have said that Skandera is a reformer and that she deserves more time to implement her reform efforts.
“If you want reform, I want you,” John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, said, saying that things need to change in education.
The five Democrats who voted to confirm Skandera were Senators Pete Campos of Las Vegas, Phil Griego of San Jose, Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Benny Shendo of Jemez Pueblo and John Arthur Smith of Deming.
Like in the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Daniel Ivey Soto recused himself from the debate and vote. He said he had a conflict of interest, not of his own making, through a charter school in Rio Rancho he represents.