Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Top Three New Mexico Political Stories In Fast Fading 2010, Plus: Hanna Joins Susana; Education Pick Appraised 

What are the political stories of 2010 that may earn a mention in the history books that New Mexico kids thumb through in 2040? There were three.

The obvious number one is the election of Republican Susana Martinez as Governor. History will forever record her as the first female chief executive in the state's now over 400 year history. In the here and now, her election points New Mexico in a more conservative direction. But how conservative is yet to be determined by a watchful and cautious public. They signal they want change but not upheaval.

The second most important NM political story of 2010 was the pick up of eight additional seats by state House Republicans. That gives them their most members--33--in the lower chamber than they have had in modern times. It could be the high water mark for the state's minority party which could easily give up some of the gains in only two years. But they could also build on the gain and actually take control of the House. Combined with the election of Martinez this GOP tilt is the stuff of which history is made. Let's see what they make of it.

The third most important story--one like those above with long term ramifications for the state--is the re-election of ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich. The state's majority party now comfortably controls the most important of New Mexico's three congressional districts--the population and media nerve center. A loss by Heinrich could have sent the seat back into R hands, but his win means the Dems have a decent chance of repeating what the R's did with the seat before they lost it in 2008--keep it for forty years.


And there won't be any more US House seats for New Mexico for a long time to come. The census figures released Tuesday showed that we are a long, long way from getting a fourth US House seat. One of our Senior Alligators who specializes in such matters said we would have to have very rapid growth over the next twenty years to possibly score another in 2030.

We grew at 13.2 percent in the last decade, just a little above the national rate of 9.7 percent. That is a much slower growth rate for our state than the 20 percent growth we had in the previous decade and much lower than the high growth states around us like Nevada and Texas

There are now 2.059 million of us, says the census. The census also reports we are evenly divided in our preference for red or green. (Just kidding. Want to make sure you are still reading.)

What is for real is that Los Alamos County, home to Los Alamos Labs, is the sixth wealthiest county in the USA. The median income there is $100,423. We better not see any of them doing their Xmas shopping across state lines.


She's all of 37, but Hanna Skandera's resume already reflects what would be a full career for a 60 year old. After looking at the impressive credentials of Skandera, tapped by Governor-elect Martinez to be the state's next Secretary of Public Education, there's little question that she has the know-how and intellect for the task ahead, but whether she has the staying power and the political skills will only be known in time. (Video here.)

Insiders praised Martinez's decision to go out of state for this key cabinet position, citing rivalries within the state's educational community that could doom an in-state pick. Also, with NM ranking 49th in many education categories, a fresh perspective and some young blood is more than welcome.

Skandera is a conservative educator. She served as an adviser to 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain who was an advocate for school vouchers. She has served as undersecretary for education in California and as deputy commissioner of education under Florida GOP Governor Jeb Bush. She also served as deputy chief of staff for the US education secretary. She has been a research scholar at Stanford's Hoover institution, a conservative think tank. She has also taught at Pepperdine University's grad school and is described as a prolific author. Just a couple of months ago--in August--she was named CEO for a nonprofit teacher training foundation.

Does she get all that out at her introductory cocktail party or hold back some?


Martinez thinks Skandera's experience improving reading scores for Hispanic students in Florida is a template for New Mexico. And it may be.

What the new secretary doesn't need to do is drag moderate New Mexico into a needless, divisive and ultimately losing battle to impose school vouchers--or as they are euphemistically known--"school choice."

We already went through that in the Guv campaign when Martinez was caught on video supporting vouchers, but later backtracked. As an outsider, Skandera is positioned to unite the education community. It would be a shame if she allowed ideological rigidness to derail that opportunity.

We don't think she is going to go there, but we put the flag in the window--just in case. The Skandera nomination won an immediate endorsement from the centrist "Think New Mexico." They said:

Skandera is a true education reformer and a data driven proponent of smaller schools. Her selection is especially good news for public school children and their parents seeking smaller learning environments.

Secretary to be Skandera will find a public here that is nearly desperate to improve the public schools--not abandon them--and especially improve the graduation rates for our Hispanic and Native American students.

As we said, Skandera's resume is packed with experience in two of the nation's largest states, the federal level and on a presidential campaign. But before she settles in a classic quote from former NM Territorial Governor Lew Wallace seems particularly apropos:

All calculations based on experience elsewhere, fail in New Mexico.

Good Luck, Hanna.

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