Campos, who is also president of Luna County Community College, said he noticed—and hoped to quash—pointed questions circulating on social media after he and four other Democrats helped tipped the scales in favor of the nomination of Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera.
Eyebrows were also raised when he was the only Democrat to vote in favor of attorney Matt Chandler during a particularly contentious hearing over his nomination to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.
“I was just waiting for someone to ask me,” Campos told the New Mexico Political Report on Monday. After all, it’s no secret that he has pursued opportunities to take the helm at his alma mater, New Mexico Highlands University, from which current president Jim Fries plans to retire in June.
Campos was in the running for that position twice before, once during the administration of Gary Johnson and again when Bill Richardson was governor. And Campos is unabashed when it comes to his support for the institution to which he has devoted significant political capital over the years.
Campos said of the Highlands search for a new president, “I’m not submitting an application or a letter of interest. It’s really not something right now that I’m looking at.”
However, when asked whether he’d turn down the position if it was offered, “I never say never,” Campos replied, because we never know what’s going to happen.”
I really vote my conscience. — Sen. Pete Campos
Unlike most of his Democratic Party peers, Campos hasn’t shied from associations with the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez on several key issues. Back in 2012, a political action committee with close ties to the governor contributed funds to Campos’ winning primary race against former state representative Thomas Garcia.
In addition to stances on this year’s education nominees, Campos sponsored a bill that would have granted the governor’s office more authority over capital outlay spending, though a bipartisan majority blocked the measure in committee.
His approach to public policy is centered on compromise and the needs of his constituents, said Campos, not partisan allegiances. Take, for example, his vote in favor of Skandera’s long-delayed confirmation to her cabinet position.
He said he disagrees with many measures Skandera and the governor support, such as requiring third-grade retention for kids with lagging scores on reading assessments. Campos said his own background in education has cemented the belief that standardized tests, such as the new Common Core-aligned PARCC, can’t compare to more individualized assessments designed and conducted by teachers in the classroom.
Campos said he also understood the criticism that Skandera’s lack of teaching experience meant she wasn’t qualified for her position. However, he added, “she has been serving for four years, building up the experience, and we need continuity.”
Campos said he’s worked closely with the PED secretary, particularly when schools in his district were facing unexpected budget shortfalls. Skandera “is very receptive to the requests for programmatic support when it comes to the emergency contingencies,” he said.
According to Campos, during Skandera’s term, the PED provided schools in his Senate district $3.2 million more than the state’s School Equalization Guarantee formula initially granted. He said that much-needed extra funding ensured that small school districts were able to cope with unforeseen funding hardships. During one of those years, schools in Las Vegas were looking at budget deficiencies of more than $1.3 million, he said.
“I asked for emergency contingency support, in order to ensure that our teachers were paid, that the school year here was complete and educational objectives were met,” he said. “She provided those resources.”
When it came time to vote for Skandera’s confirmation, Campos said he thought to himself, “here’s a person that has risen to the occasion, that’s supported the districts. I take that into consideration.”
He added that by committing to collaboration with the secretary, he’d also be in a better position to hold her accountable for policy decisions.
“If the PARCC test isn’t working, as the secretary, how are we going to address that? If our funding is not sufficient, how are we going to address that? If the SEG is not sufficient for our students, how are we going to address that? … Now, there is that level of accountability. I hold the secretary accountable to the educational program.”
Campos said he and Skandera have discussed plans for future meetings centered on improving communication with teachers and their union representatives. “It’ll be full coordination and more inclusion and involvement, and then from there, the other aspect of it is to continue to bring AFT and NEA [teachers’ unions] to the table.”
Circling back to the subject of Highlands’ presidential vacancy, Campos said he hasn’t discussed the subject with the governor.
“I’m really interested in Highlands and its well being,” he added, “but right now I’m focused on the Legislature.”