In Absence of Senate Action, Hannah Skandera Confirms Herself; Media Chooses Not to Go Along

April 30th, 2013 · 1 Comment · Education, journalism, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Because the Senate has failed to get around to confirming her as secretary, New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Hannah Skandera has decided to just make it so, with the blessing of the governor.

The Las Cruces Sun-News was apparently first to notice that Skandera had made herself secretary by stating as such on the PED’s website. It’s obvious from the first paragraph that she’s not waiting around for confirmation any more. After the child-like title “Kids First, New Mexico Wins!”, she welcomes web visitors with this (my emphasis added):

As the Secretary of Education, I call on every educator, student, parent, community member and public servant to share in the responsibility for the success of our children and, ultimately, the future of the great state of New Mexico. . . .

After three more paragraphs, she signs off with:

Warm regards,

Hanna Skandera
Secretary of Education

The Sun-News said, “. . .it is clear that the Public Education Department website was edited to make Skandera secretary of education, erasing her temporary title of “designate.”…

And the Santa Fe New Mexican editorialized against the change, calling it a “premature promotion” on the part of Skandera, saying:

The Rules Committee should have voted on the nomination. That the committee didn’t was a failure of leadership — two years is too long to let a nominee twist in the wind, even one whose policies you dispute. . . .

However, the New Mexico Senate Rules Committee has not voted. The governor said in a statement that “legislators and the media can keep calling her Secretary designate if they wish, but Gov. Martinez considers Hanna her Secretary of Public Education.”

In conclusion, the New Mexican chided:

. . .Even a schoolchild knows, just because you call yourself something doesn’t make it so.

The Albuquerque Journal so far has weighed in via education reporter Hayley Heinz’s blog post of Friday, April 26. She noted that “For all the interesting and important things going on in education, today most people in the New Mexico edu-world just want to talk to me about (the Las Cruces article),” illustrating how controversial Skandera’s appointment continues to be.

So Heinz contacted PED for an explanation and looked through her own press releases on file to see when Skandera might have dropped “designate” from her title.

I do get a lot of press releases, and I looked through my records to see what I could glean about this title change that has the edu-sphere all aflutter. As best I can figure, press releases from the PED dropped the “designate” label around the first of the year. The first press release I have that calls Skandera the secretary is dated January 8, and everything since then has called her the secretary. Everything I have from last year seems to call her the designate.

So, Skandera dropped “designate” even before the Legislature convened, as Heinz immediately notes, saying:

This is based on a fairly thorough, but non-scientific, assessment of press releases saved in my email. I’m not sure where that leaves us, but of course January pre-dates all the Rules Committee drama.

It’s not likely the Santa Fe New Mexico or Las Cruces Sun-News will go along with Skandera’s self-promotion. Will the Journal?

Heinz answers, quite professionally, on her blog:

The short answer is no. This revelation about the PED website won’t affect the language I use in the newspaper.

But it’s worth noting here that the language I use in the newspaper isn’t always “education secretary-designate,” because frankly, that title is cumbersome. But since “Secretary” is inaccurate, I have taken to calling Skandera “state education chief.” You’ll notice I used lower-case letters there, because it isn’t a formal title. It’s a quick description of what she does, to let readers know who I’m talking about. I first started using this description in May of 2012, for no other reason than I thought it would be more helpful to readers who aren’t tuned into the vagaries of New Mexico education politics. I still call her secretary-designate in stories where I think it is relevant, like stories that mention the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm her.

There, now I practically have a little written policy (approved by no one) about how I refer to Hanna Skandera.

Heinz has nailed it: The Senate’s failure to reject or confirm has left readers, journalists and constituents dealing with “the vagaries of New Mexico education politics”, a game that, with the administration’s action, is obviously still in play.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Emanuele Corso

    If there was any doubt that this administration has no respect or regard for the legislature that should now be dispelled. However, the administration’s adolescent behavior doesn’t let the legislature off their hook either; they did not do what they should have, what their duty called for, and there is no excusing that either.

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