Frustrated with a confirmation process that has dragged on for more than two years without a vote, Gov. Susana Martinez has begun referring to Hanna Skandera in some contexts as state “secretary of education,” dropping the word “designate” from her title.
Skandera has been a controversial figure since Martinez tapped her to head the state Public Education Department more than two years ago, and she has not been confirmed by the Senate. During the latest legislative session, hours of hearings were held in the Senate Rules Committee, but no vote was ever taken.
Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has said the committee needs more information before it can vote, and that hearings will continue throughout the year.
Martinez has been critical of the Senate’s failure to vote on Skandera’s confirmation. Earlier this month, she told reporters that “a lot of politics have been played” during the confirmation process.
That was part of Martinez’s response to a reporter’s question about why Skandera is now referred to on the PED website and in news releases as the secretary of education, instead of secretary-designate.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and a member of the Rules Committee, said he sympathizes with the governor but feels it is inappropriate for Skandera to drop the “designate” from her title.
“I understand the governor and the secretary-designate’s frustration about the process,” he said. “I think there are probably more respectful ways for them to make a statement, other than taking a title that suggests she has been confirmed, when in fact she has not.”
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said last month the change reflects the governor’s faith in Skandera.
“Legislators and the media can keep calling her Secretary designate if they wish, but Governor Martinez considers Hanna her Secretary of Public Education,” Knell said in a written statement. He said Skandera “has been in the job for more than 2 years and the Rules Committee has had ample opportunity to give her a vote on the Senate floor.”
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he does not mind that Skandera has dropped the “designate” from her title, because she is performing the job, and has gone through hours of hearings without receiving a vote.
“She hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, but she’s still there,” Ingle said. “She’s the Cabinet officer of the governor.”
This week, state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman called the decision to drop designate from Skandera’s title a “display of arrogance” and a “flagrant abuse of power,” and called for Skandera to resign.
Bregman said Skandera doesn’t have the Senate support she needs to legally serve, calling her “unqualified and unconfirmable.”
Bregman said the change in Skandera’s title shows disdain for the laws of New Mexico.
“She has bestowed the title ‘secretary of education’ upon herself because she dislikes the process,” Bregman wrote.
A Martinez spokesman and the chairman of the state Republican Party were dismissive of Bregman’s statement with Knell calling it “the same tired partisan attacks by those who are trying to maintain a status quo in education in New Mexico that has failed our kids for far too long.”