By Jose Armas
New Mexico Latinos turned out in unprecedented numbers to vote Republican to make Susana Martinez, the first Latina governor in history. She certainly captured our imagination, especially since she branded herself as the “bold education reform” candidate. So after her first 100 days, what’s the report card on this charismatic leader? First lets set the stage:
• New Mexico is the only Latino majority state in the union. Latino children make up more than 60% of students, outnumbering whites nearly 2 x 1.
• Our state is branded among the worst education systems. With good reason, less than half of all students graduate in four years.
• To the credit of outgoing Gov. Bill Richardson, last year Latinos helped him pass the Hispanic Education Act (HEA), the only law in the country to specifically focus on addressing the Latino education crisis.
Of course, these initiatives have yet to take hold and Latino conditions are so dismal that we anxiously looked to what our new bold governor would do. So, after completing her first legislative session, here is a report card from a Latino perspective.
• Our Governor pushed — and got a 1.5% cut in education. Then days after the session ended, her education secretary, Hanna Skandera dropped the bombshell that cuts were in fact, going to be more than double that amount.
• Under another Republican governor 40 years ago, our education budget made up 55% of state expenditures. Today Martinez has managed to slash that budget to nearly 39%, the lowest in recorded history. This is creating outrage among school districts throughout the state. And others…
• Skandera, an outsider was brought in to design her bold education reform plan. Skandera, in turn, brought in eight other outsiders to fix us. Skandera is white. And her hired guns are all white, and none are educators. She’s been bold all right.
• The HEA called for an annual status report of Latino education and for an Advisory Committee to provide direction. The first status report was posted on the department of education web site, days before Richardson left office. Days after becoming governor, Martinez had that report pulled. The Advisory Council, who was never asked for their counsel, decided to convene itself and then declared they wanted input before the education reform plan is finalized, which is now expected any day. The Council now, any day, awaits the possibility of being fired for their bold initiative.
Our state constitution calls for “perfect equality” for all New Mexicans and mandates that education must be “adequately funded”. Martinez’ budget is now 25% below what has been determined to be “adequately funded.”
Latinos are now, ironically, looking at the real possibility of filing a civil rights case against a Latina governor. After all, 75% of all students are Latino, Indian and Black. We are among the poorest states due in major part to our broken education system. Bringing in white, non-educators to fix us promises turmoil. “Bold education reform” is not going to happen by slashing education to its lowest levels ever. Our dream of “perfect equality” appears to be fading further away.
Oh, in another slap at Latinos, Martinez fought to repeal the law that allows the undocumented to have driver’s licenses. When her bill got rejected, Martinez immediately began a very public campaign to continue her assault on this law that makes driving safer here by requiring everyone to have insurance and passing a driving test.
Martinez also got lots of fanfare for signing a law allowing dogs to go into restaurants. Presumably, to eat with the rest of us lowly, uneducated masses.
So what’s the report card for our historic Latina governor? Well, the national GOP appears to be making her their latest golden poster girl. But for Latinos, we were hoping for “bold education reform”; but we foolishly expected bold, but responsible reform. Alas, after 100 days, it appears that our freshman Gov. Martinez needs to be put in “time out.”