Guest Essayist: The Honorable David L. Robbins

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New Mexico became the 47th state to join the union on January 6, 1912.  This was shortly before Arizona was admitted on February 14, 1912.  The New Mexico Constitution became effective on the day Congress admitted New Mexico to the union.  The original document was ratified by the New Mexico Constitutional Convention on November 21, 1910.  The voters of the State ratified the constitution on November 5, 1911.

The ratified constitution and eventual boundaries varied widely from what was originally proposed in the mid 1800’s.  The New Mexico territory was formed following the end of the Spanish American War in 1848 through the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  The territory initially consisted of parts of west Texas (which claimed the territory east of the Rio Grande river), most of present-day Arizona, and part of southern Colorado.

In the 1850’s the country was in a deep debate on slavery.  Although slavery was not common in the territory, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was used as an argument that New Mexico could be a slave state, but the argument wasn’t persuasive.  The lack of statehood for the area prior to the Civil War and disagreement on its boundaries delayed its admission for decades.  The original territory excluded the south western part of present-day New Mexico (the Boot Heel) and southern Arizona.  This nearly 30,000 square miles of land was purchased from Mexico in 1854 which permitted the construction of a rail line across the southern-western part of the country.

The Constitution for the State has 24 Articles and has been amended more than 170 times in 107 years.  Conversely, the U.S. Constitution has seven Articles and has been amended only 27 times in 230 years, including the first ten amendments included as the Bill of Rights.  Many amendments to the State Constitution are minor, and several have been related to voting changes.  In most states, these minor changes are usually handled by State statutes, but are enshrined in the New Mexico Constitution.

New Mexico has a long and colorful past spanning several millennia and a rich and diverse culture.  The Constitution incorporates much of that historical culture.  Native Americans have been present in New Mexico for over eight thousand years.  After Spain conquered Mexico, it included all the area of present-day New Mexico.  During Spanish control, hundreds of land-grants were issued to individuals.  Many of these land grants still exist today.  The heirs to those land-grants share in that rich history but have often had to fight for their legal right to those land-grants.

Due to the strong Spanish history and historical Spanish legal system, New Mexico’s constitution declares the State as a bi-lingual State.  This was intended to protect educational access of Spanish speakers and those of Spanish descent.

Despite the acknowledgement of the strong Spanish history, approval by the Constitutional Convention in 1910 wasn’t assured by Congress, as provisions restricted the ability to be amended.  These restrictions included;

  • the requirement of a two-thirds vote of the legislature to propose amendments,
  • in addition to a bare majority, all amendments would be ratified by at least 40% of those voting in the election, with a 40%+ vote in at least half of the State’s counties, and
  • a limitation on the total number of amendments submitted to the people in a given election cycle.

Congress did not approve of these anti-populist provisions.  As a prerequisite to admission as a state, Congress required that the people of the State ratify an amendment that would:

  • provide for a simple majority vote in the legislature,
  • ratify by a simple majority vote of the people, and
  • do away with the limitation on the total number of amendments.

The prerequisites were proposed by Henry De La Warr Flood from Virginia and came to be known as the “Flood amendment.”

Article XII of the Constitution addresses education and requires that the State provide public education “sufficient” for all children.  While “sufficient” isn’t defined, poor educational outcomes for minority and at-risk students prompted a challenge in 2014 via several lawsuits.  Two of the largest suits were combined and officially became known as the Martinez-Yazzie lawsuit.  In December 2018 Judge Sarah Singleton sided with the plaintiffs ruling the State had failed to meet its constitutional requirement for at-risk students and gave the State until April 2019 to resolve the deficiencies.  Many of the at-risk students are English language learners, primarily of Spanish heritage.

Funding for education is addressed in Section 2 of the Constitution that established the Land Grant Permanent Fund for education.  This was intended to provide a sustainable source of income to fund the public schools in the State.  New Mexico is a geographically large State, fifth largest in the country, with over 126,000 square miles and is sparsely populated (a bit over 2 million).  Along with a small economic base, the Land Grant Permanent Fund is insufficient to totally support the educational mandates of the Constitution, so the State Legislature also appropriates funds directly to supplement other funding sources.

Partly in response to the Martinez-Yazzie lawsuit, the 2019 NM Legislature increased public school funding by over $700 million, a 13% increase over last year.  Despite this increase, many continue to feel the State is failing to meet this constitutional mandate.  Currently the State contributes approximately 47 percent of a $7 billion State budget to elementary and secondary.  This puts New Mexico around 35th in the country on spending per student, but the State is near the bottom in educational outcomes.

In 2003, the State Constitution was amended with the goal of improving educational outcomes in a State that has ranked at or near the bottom of the 50 States.  This created a Public Education Department (PED) with a Secretary appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the New Mexico Senate.  The amendment also renamed the State Board of Education to Public Education Commission (PEC), and the elected Board members became Commissioners.  Prior to this amendment, the PED was directed by a Superintendent, appointed and accountable to the State Board of Education.  According to the Constitution and statute, the PEC is advisory to the PED on education matters and the sole authorizer and overseer of State authorized Charter Schools.

The New Mexico Constitution has many unique features including how public education is addressed.  Time will tell if the education amendment and recent judicial interpretations of the Constitution will enable the State to move up in national rankings.

David L. Robbins has over 13 years’ experience in state government, and more than 30 years in the private sector.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MBA in Finance, both from UNM.  His experience has included management, wholesale and retail sales, insurance, banking, utilities, education, consulting, public service, and construction.

David has been an adjunct professor of finance at the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico.  He was elected to the Albuquerque Public Schools’ Board of Education in 2009 and served from 2009-2013, including Chairman of the Finance and Audit Committees and the Capital and Technology Outlay Committee.

Until December 31, David was the Director of Administrative Services and CFO for the NM Department of Workforce Solutions.  He previously held the same positions at the NM Taxation and Revenue Department, where he oversaw the annual distribution of approximately $7 billion in state revenues and taxes to New Mexico cities, counties, and various state funds. 

In 2017, Governor Susana Martinez appointed David to vacancy on the Public Education Commission, District 2, created in the passing of Millie Pogna. He ran unopposed for election this past November and started serving a four year term, running through 2022.

David and his wife of over 43 years, Jan, are the proud parents of three grown children, including one with disabilities. They have five grandchildren (two granddaughters and three grandsons); all live in the Albuquerque area.  David and his wife are active members of their church, where he serves as a Deacon and teaches a senior men’s Bible study class.

 

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