Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Keeping Families Together

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 8, 2011

I doubt Gov. Susana Martinez would use this in a campaign ad, but she could rightfully claim that her administration has helped bring families together.

This column reported a couple of months ago that the Governor’s Office had hired Alexis Valdez Darnell for the position of operations director. She’s the wife of Scott Darnell, Martinez’s communications director.
Keith Gardner
Now, the state Public Education Department has hired Stephanie Gardner as its National Assessment of Educational Progress coordinator.

She’s a teacher from Roswell. She’s also the wife of Keith Gardner, Martinez’s chief of staff.

Larry Behrens, spokesman for the department, confirmed the hire, which was first reported Wednesday on the website of Independent Source PAC, a liberal political-action committee dedicated to opposition research.

“She was hired after a competitive process where the position was posted publicly,” Behrens said in an email. “There were about 20 applicants for the job, of which PED staff interviewed five. Each interviewee received a score from at least two PED staff members, which resulted in a final score. After that process, Stephanie was clearly the most qualified applicant for the job with her extensive teaching experience in Roswell.”

Behrens said neither Keith Gardner nor Secretary of Education Designate Hanna Skandera was a part of the scoring, interview or selection process.

“On top of that, she does not report to either of them directly as part of her current role,” Behrens said.

Stephanie Gardner is a classified employee with a $67,000 a year salary, which, Behrens said, is less than her predecessor earned.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card, collects information and statistics related to academic achievement of students.

As pointed out here previously, the Martinez administration isn’t the first to hire relatives of those who work for the governor.

Bill Richardson employed both Eric Witt as his legislative liaison and point man on film industry issues and Lee Witt, Eric’s mother, as an aide to first lady Barbara Richardson. Meanwhile, Gary Johnson’s chief of staff, the late Lou Gallegos, worked in the Governor’s Office at the same time his wife, Rita Nuñez, did.

Hello, Heather: In his role as the president of the Senate, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has the unofficial duty of giving a warm greeting to guests of legislators who visit during floor sessions. On Tuesday, the opening day of the current special session, Sanchez did that job well — even with former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, a guest of Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis.

Sanchez’s tone was friendly and sincere as he welcomed Wilson. And he didn’t mention once the fact that he and Wilson are running against each other in next year’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate. And he didn’t even allude to the fact that he and Wilson have said some pretty harsh things about each other in recent months.

Wilson was in friendly territory, at least on the Republican side of the Senate. At least 12 of the 15 sitting GOP senators have endorsed her Senate bid.

Out of the doghouse?: Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, got some chuckles Tuesday when he noted on the floor that Sanchez was sometimes “in the doghouse” with Gov. Martinez.

When Sanchez announced he was running for Senate this year, Martinez released a statement saying, “To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Governor Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution.”

But no one who heard Sanchez speak Monday at a tea party rally outside the Capitol would have suspected that he’d ever even seen the inside of the doghouse.

Sanchez in his speech enthusiastically endorsed every one of Martinez’s issues she wants considered in the special session. “I do support Gov. Martinez’s efforts to reform New Mexico,” he said. “For the governor to have a robust agenda is good for New Mexico.”