The Los Alamos Federation of School Employees (LAFSE) held a “Meet and Greet” for its endorsed gubernatorial candidate, Sen. Howie Morales Monday at the Los Alamos High School Speech Theater. Morales is seeking the Democratic nomination to face Gov. Susana Martinez in November.
Los Alamos LAFSE President Ellen Mills said Morales has been a “true friend in the Senate.”
“Howie has a thorough understanding of the education process. We’re also impressed by his integrity,” she said.
“We believe he’s the candidate that can beat the current governor,” Mills said.
The union has made no secret of its desire to defeat Gov. Martinez. Martinez in turn, has claimed that teachers’ unions are destroying education and has asked supporters to help her beat the unions, Morales said in this remarks.
Morales, a former teacher, holds a Master of Arts degree in Bilingual Special Education and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a dual emphasis in computer learning technologies and management and leadership. He has been heavily involved in education legislation since becoming a state senator in 2008.
Morales is a strong advocate for early childhood education, twice voting for a constitutional amendment to increase funding for early childhood education.
“For every dollar we put into early childhood education, we get $16 back,” Morales said. “Tapping into the Permanent Fund is one solution, but it’s only a 10 year fix. We need a real, permanent solution.”
Morales said Martinez and her administration have promoted a standardized model of education that serves neither high performing schools like those in Los Alamos nor struggling school districts.
In 2013, Morales authored a bill to reform the teacher evaluation system instituted by Martinez’s administration. The legislation passed the legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Martinez.
In terms of teacher assessment, “I don’t think we necessarily need any standardized assessment,” Morales said. He said peer review made more sense as an evaluation system. “I have concerns that some evaluators do not have the right experience,” he said of the current system.
Morales said having 10 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation based on student test scores might be a compromise, but the Governor vetoed an even greater compromise of 25 percent. Currently, 50 percent of the evaluation is based on these scores. State funding has been earmarked for teacher merit pay tied to these evaluations.
An audience member asked Morales about attracting companies such as Tesla Motors to the state. New Mexico is in the running for a plant that would bring 6,500 jobs to the state. Morales expressed caution about offering incentives. “When the recession hit, a lot of these companies packed up and left, even though they received incentives,” he said.
“I believe we need to strengthen our small businesses, our education system and institutions of higher learning to make sure that businesses will want to come here,” Morales said.
When asked what sets him apart from his rivals in the crowded field to win the Democratic Party’s nomination to face Martinez, Morales said it was his energy and his experience.
“None of the other candidates have the well-rounded experience I bring to the table,” Morales said. He pointed out that he’s been in the classroom, worked in healthcare and been in local government in addition to his experience in the State Senate.
Morales praised Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard who was in the audience. “You have a wonderful representative. I look forward to working with her on the third floor,” he said. The governor’s office is located on the third floor of the Roundhouse.
Although polls have shown Attorney General Gary King leading the pack for the Democratic nomination, Morales seems to have strong support with Party stalwarts. He was the top choice for governor among New Mexico Democratic Party delegates voting in the March pre-primary convention.
“Our message resonates with New Mexicans,” Morales said. “We just need to get it out there.”