Voucher Debate in New Mexico

Published July 1, 1999

Although Governor Gary E. Johnson’s veto of the New Mexico state budget did not ultimately result in approval of the voucher legislation he had set as his Number One priority, it did trigger a huge increase in news coverage about vouchers, leading to an unprecedented open debate of school choice issues before a joint special session of the House and Senate in early May. The effort was aided by supporters of school choice from across the country who traveled to New Mexico and spoke with the governor at forums around the state.

Choice supporters included Milwaukee parents Pilar Gonzalez and Zakiya Courtney, who also met with pastors, Bishops, and parents. John Kirtley, a major force in Floridians for School Choice, encouraged the business community to get involved, and the Institute for Justice’s Matthew Berry responded to claims that vouchers would violate the state constitution. Paul Peterson of Harvard University described his research findings on the success of privately and publicly funded voucher programs.

The governor’s school choice forums generated extensive coverage in every major daily newspaper, television coverage on all networks including Hispanic stations, and hours of radio coverage including news talk and call_in formats. The legislative leadership invited the out-of-state visitors to testify before a joint session of the House and Senate.

But when the time came for a decision, the Democrat-controlled legislature rejected Johnson’s plan with votes of 29-11 in the Senate and 50-20 in the House. Undeterred, the governor will continue promoting vouchers in town hall meetings, radio forums, and TV appearances.

“I believe the debate is far from over and I’m not giving up on vouchers,” he said.

Johnson wants the voucher issue, which he regards as nonpartisan, to be the central issue in the year 2000 elections. A Republican, Johnson suggested he’d be willing to support Democrat candidates who favor vouchers.