Education Reform is Far Over the Horizon
N.M. Budget Woes Must Be Addressed
By Joe Monahan
The fallout continues from the epic election of 2016. Here what we’re hearing:
The era of controversial Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera appears to be at an end. President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education paves the way for Skandera to return to D.C., where she previously toiled in the administration of George W. Bush.
Skandera’s departure will be celebrated by the educational community and mourned by her supporters in the local GOP and business communities.
Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez pushed an aggressive reform agenda that included teacher evaluations and third-grade retention. The result was gridlock, and the state remains mired in the cellar in national public school rankings.
Martinez has two years left on her final term. Democrats are firmly in control of both the state House and Senate, but the governor still has the power of the veto. So, it looks like the next round of attempted education reform will have to wait for the next governor in 2019.
Will the 60-day session of the Legislature in January be known as the “The Constitutional Amendment Session”? With Martinez promising to wield her veto pen and kill pet Democratic proposals, the Dems might consider an end run.
Lawmakers can place constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter approval without any involvement from the governor. When it comes to amending the state Constitution, the governor’s basically a bystander. For example, say, the Dems have the votes to approve a bill substantially increasing the state’s low $7.50-an-hour minimum wage but can’t get Martinez to go along. If they put that raise in the form of a constitutional amendment, it would easily win voter approval.
But there’s a catch. Any amendments approved during the 2017 session wouldn’t go before voters until November 2018, then would take effect the following year. With the Dems having a good chance of recapturing the governorship in ’18, they might want to ditch the amendment maneuver and send their minimum wage bill to the governor and force her to make unpopular vetoes.
But back to the minimum-wage amendment maneuver. If it did go on the ’18 ballot, it could serve to increase Democratic turnout and improve the Dems’ chances of winning the governorship. It’s not even Christmas 2016 yet, but welcome to the 2018 campaign season.
For those of you wondering about a possible constitutional amendment to legalize recreational use of marijuana in New Mexico, even with Democrats in control of the Legislature, it seems problematic. Some Dems fear the impact of legal marijuana in a state already saddled with substance-abuse problems. The day of legalized marijuana here may be on the way, but its arrival is best measured in years.
And what about the money? People are starting to finally believe the governor when she says that no matter how bad things get, she will never agree to a tax increase. With the state’s $6.2 billion budget still under immense pressure because of anemic energy prices, Martinez could be the first governor to preside over widespread state employee layoffs.
Perhaps the most significant election fallout will be simply what we talk about.
Instead of the “all crime all the time” agenda the GOP pushed, the newly empowered Democrats will attempt to switch the narrative. Expect discussion of the high jobless rate, the state’s ongoing depopulation and vanishing millennials, and the social crisis that worsened the crime wave that the GOP (unsuccessfully) tried to campaign on.
There are no easy solutions to the state’s deep-seated problems, but identifying what they are is a start.
Joe Monahan is a veteran of New Mexico politics. His daily blog can be found at joemonahan.com.