ALBUQUERQUE Gov. Bill Richardson took his first steps into this falls gubernatorial election on Friday, firing off a pointed criticism of Republican nominee Susana Martinez over her remarks from campaign advertising and a debate on education issues.
Richardson, a Democrat who cannot seek re-election after two terms, said Martinez obviously doesnt know what shes talking about.
All she can do is make false claims about my record and continually get her facts wrong, Richardson said in a statement. Voters will see through her attempt to hide her support for school vouchers and her ultimate desire to cut classroom spending.
Martinez wants to offer tax credits to businesses and people who offer scholarship money so children can attend the school of their choice, an idea that was criticized by Lt. Gov. and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Diane Denish during a debate Thursday night.
In a response issued later Martinez said, The fact that Gov. Richardson is defending Diane Denish tells New Mexicans everything they need to know.
Richardson largely has stayed on the sidelines so far, offering cover to Denish as Republicans criticize her ties to the two-term governor. Richardson and Denish ran together and won in 2002 and 2006.
During the campaigns first debate Thursday, Denish and Martinez clashed over the Republicans plan to use tax credits to allow children to attend private or religious schools. The Democrats have characterized it as a voucher program.
Martinez defended the proposal, saying, I want private funding to be available for children that are trapped in failing schools.
Richardson rejected the suggestion that schools are failing and said his administration has helped almost 10,000 students attend charter schools within the public system. The governor said those schools have been held accountable for results.
Richardson also challenged Martinezs pledge to shift education spending from administrative costs to classrooms, saying he did that first requiring school districts to move $90 million from cash reserves into classroom spending after taking office in 2003.
He also said he delivered on a campaign pledge by giving teachers a 6 percent raise.
Richardson also he contested Martinezs concern that New Mexico has allowed a culture of low expectations to settle into the states education system. Richardson pointed to pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs implemented on his watch.
Martinez said Richardson and Denish failed to deliver on promises that every child would read by third grade, that 62 cents of every education dollar would go into classrooms and that New Mexico would boast strong graduation rates.
Instead, she said 80 percent of fourth graders cant read proficiently, money is wasted on bureaucracy and almost 40 percent of students dont graduate.
If New Mexicans want a third term of the failed policies of Bill Richardson, they should vote for his loyal soldier, Diane Denish, Martinez said.