John Sapien

Suffice it to say, you probably haven’t seen the last of John Sapien.

The state senator from Corrales announced last month that he decided not to run for re-election this year, after two terms — a dozen years — in the Roundhouse. His district encompassed Placitas, Corrales, Bernalillo and part of Rio Rancho.

“I’m too young to call it retirement,” said Sapien, labeled a moderate Democrat — he won’t argue the adjective — whose greatest claim to fame while in Santa Fe was being a champion of early childhood education.

A State Farm Insurance agent in Bernalillo and the son of former Sandoval County Commissioner Bill Sapien, John Sapien said he has other things to do, which includes helping his elderly father get to dialysis three times a week.

Asked what his most-memorable accomplishments were, Sapien deferred from attention.

“I’d always really kind of discounted my work. People would say, ‘No, but you did this and you did that,’ and I’d be like, ‘Yeah, but I could’ve done more,'” he said.

“I don’t have any regrets,” he said, believing his work on education in Santa Fe will continue.

“The things I was working on were always partnerships with other legislators. The signature stuff with education, that’s a dynamic process — you can never be finished with education policy.”

Sapien said leaders need to consider 10 to 20 years at a time to see if education policies were working.

“They had a little farewell ceremony for me on the Senate floor, and the majority leader, Peter Wirth, outlined the work I’d accomplished on early childhood education. We started that 10 years ago,” he said. “I was the title sponsor on three pieces of really game-changing legislation regarding early childhood education — mainstream educating, not just kindergarten through (grade 12).”

Sapien believes the best chance for an education is starting kids young — younger, even, than ages 3 and 4, as is customary in New Mexico.

“Eighty percent of the brain develops between zero and 3,” he said. “If you’re not providing the colors, the objects — that sort of daily regimen — even when they’re 2 and 3 years old, then you’re missing out on that development. So we put in the structure early, the Early Childhood and Caring Act, in 2010, to give us the business plan to provide for the programs.”

Sapien said the funding for early childhood education increased by “about $280 million” in 2010, which “almost tripled the funding we were putting in before.”

“(It was) probably my signature accomplishment,” he said.

The intent was to have students 60-80 percent proficient in reading by middle school, and if not, “then you’re going to have some challenges.”

Sapien still hopes the completion of Paseo del Volcan from Unser Boulevard to I-40 will become a reality.

“Companies will build around it — just like they did with Paseo del Norte. When we changed Paseo del Norte and I-25, that whole area blew up. But for some reason, Paseo del Volcan just is not getting that traction,” he said.

Sapien said he’ll enjoy having more time with his family.

“I have kids still in school,” he said, “and I’ll continue working with my State Farm agency. Life is dynamic — there’s always other opportunities, where you find them.”

He said he’d thought about running for the District 1 U.S. Congressional seat being abandoned by Ben Ray Lujan in order to purse retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s seat in Washington, D.C.

“I flew out to D.C., met with major funders, with influential people, with people I trust, and just realized the time away — a congressional deal — that’s a full-time gig and there’s no time for family.

“(People who do that) are definitely not coaching; they’re not umpires — they’re not doing all those things in the community that I still very much value,” Sapien said.

The state District 9 constituency, he said, “if you treat it as a living being, is a moderate, conservative mentality.”

Sapien said he’s not sure who’ll take his seat; candidate hopefuls will need to submit petitions with at least 176 names to the Sandoval County Bureau of Elections between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. March 10 to get on the June 9 primary ballot. The general election is Nov. 3.

“So the next person that comes behind me, if it’s a Democrat, will have to be a moderate, or the Democrats will lose the seat. From the Republican side of the game, depending on who they put up, it again will have to be somebody who has — and I’ll say it because I’ve been there for 12 years — has a mindset like mine, which is very much middle-of-the road, listens to options from both sides of the aisle and makes decisions based on what’s best for a utilitarian mindset.

“You have to be able to work with the House and have a democratic mentality — a difference between the words Democrat and democratic— you have to have a democratic mentality, meaning this is about governance, not politics.”