Friday, August 20, 2010

Hey, I Remember That Guy!

Gov. Bill Richardson — apparently is tired of being a punching bag for Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez — made a rare foray into the 2010 campaign Friday, issuing a statement Friday listing his achievements in the area of education and saying Martinez “obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
Democrat Richardson made his statement the day after a debate between Martinez and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, the Democratic candidate for governor. Richardson is constitutionally prohibited seeking a third term,

"All she can do is make false claims about my record and continually get her facts wrong,” Richardson said of Martinez. “Voters will see through her attempt to hide her support for school vouchers and her ultimate desire to cut classroom spending.”

“The fact that Gov. Bill Richardson is defending Diane Denish tells New Mexicans everything they need to know,” Martinez said in a statement in response to the governor’s. “As I said last night, if New Mexicans want a third-term of the failed policies of Bill Richardson, they should vote for his ‘loyal soldier,’ Diane Denish.”

Indeed, Richardson’s statement comes during a time in which Denish, who has been lieutenant governor since Richardson took office in 2003, has been trying to establish her independence from Richardson, whose popularity has dwindled during the past two years in the face of state investment scandals and a weak economy.

Asked whether Denish considered Richardson’s defense helpful, campaign spokesman Chris didn’t directly answer the question. “Thursday night’s debate was about New Mexico’s next governor, and putting Diane Denish’s ideas to strengthen public schools up against Susana Martinez’s plan to take money out of our public schools and give it to wealthy private schools.”

The issue of whether Martinez supports state vouchers to pay tuition at private schools also was brought up in Richardson’s statement. “While candidate Martinez talks about school choice, she’s really talking about supporting school vouchers. If she had paid attention during the last eight years, she would know that Gov. Richardson has made it possible for nearly 10,000 New Mexico students to attend one of 81 charter schools within the public system, while holding schools accountable for results.”

Martinez insists she would not use public money to support private schools. Instead, she says she supports giving tax credits to businesses and individuals who give money for scholarships for students to attend the school of their choice. However during the Republican primary, Martinez advocated a different proposal, telling The Associated Press in May that she supported granting tax credits to families who send their children to private or religious schools.

Richardson in his statement provided a lengthy list of several things he’d done for education, such as raising teacher pay, leading the fight for constitutional amendments to increase education funding and supporting pre-kindergarten programs, increasing funding for full-day kindergarten.

In terms of teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association the state ranks 39th in teacher salaries — which is an improvement from before Richardson’s salary increases.

Martinez in her response said Richardson had failed on his 2002 promise that “at least 62 cents of every education dollar would make it into the classroom” and “more money is wasted on the bureaucracy instead of being spent in the classroom.”

Beverly Friedman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Education, said Friday that 61.6 percent of the department’s operational budget is dedicated to the classroom. Richardson’s statement said one of his first acts when taking office was to require school districts to move $90 million from cash reserves into classroom spending.

As she did at the debate, Martinez on Friday noted that nearly 40 percent of New Mexico’s children fail to graduated and that the state ranks low in several education rankings. According to statistics from the federal Education Department, the state ranks near the bottom in almost every category of reading, writing and math skills for fourth and eighth graders.

My instant "fact check" of last night's debate can be found HERE.

Kate Nash's piece on the debate is HERE