Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

6-9 Gov. Ross Remembered

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Gov. Edmund G. Ross came to New Mexico because of the railroad. He was a founder of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. In fact, the name was his idea.
At the time, Ross was editor of the Topeka newspaper. Subsequently, he was appointed by the governor of Kansas to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate and entered history books as the man who saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.
But the people of Kansas supported impeachment and had fully expected Ross, a Republican, to vote to oust the Democrat president.
Ross, however, felt the grounds for impeachment were so inadequate that it would jeopardize the stability of our nation if impeachment became so easy.
That ended Ross' political career as a Kansas Republican, so he looked elsewhere for opportunities. Railroads were his first love, far above politics, so he moved from one end of the AT&SF Line to the other.
In Albuquerque, he met two other former Kansans. He partnered with one of them in railroad and mining investments and joined the other at the Albuquerque Morning Journal.
After his rejections by Kansas Republicans, Ross became a Democrat. That didn't do him much good in the Republican New Mexico Territory until Grover Cleveland became the only Democrat elected president between 1860 and 1912.
In 1885, Cleveland appointed Ross governor of New Mexico. Ross got off to a rocky start when the Republican state Senate took a full year to confirm him. Although his relations with the Legislature never warmed very much, Ross still managed to rack up an impressive list of accomplishments.
His advocacy of railroads, mining and agriculture laid the foundations for New Mexico's economic growth. He also helped revitalize efforts toward gaining statehood.
Ross had long been a strong supporter of education. While in Congress, he introduced bills advocating a public school system in the territories.
As soon as he became governor, Ross began meeting with the heads of private schools in the state, along with cultural and economic factions, to encourage their support of a public school and higher education system.
By the end of his term, these negotiations resulted in the framework for public schools and the creation of the University of New Mexico, New Mexico A&M and the New Mexico School of Mines.
Unlike New Mexico's best known governor, Lew Wallace, Ross didn't hop a train to head home as soon as his term was over. Ross remained in New Mexico until his death in 1907.
After leaving office, Ross studied law and passed the New Mexico bar. He also edited the Deming Headlight until 1893. He headed the state's Bureau of Immigration from 1894-1896 and then published several books.
Shortly before his death, Kansas sent an emissary to New Mexico to personally issue the state's official apology to Ross. Most people had changed their minds about the effect of Ross' action. Tributes to his courage in the face of intense political pressure were extended along with testimonials of good will.
Being a territorial governor was not as prestigious as being a U.S. senator. Many biographies of Ross do not even mention his 25 years in New Mexico. He will always be known for that one courageous vote that saved a president. Some historians contend that it also likely saved our constitution and nation.
New Mexico hasn't done much to remember Ross either. Many state buildings are named after past governors, including Lew Wallace, but none after Ross.
In the 2006 Legislature, Sen. Shannon Robinson, who represents the Albuquerque legislative district in which Ross is buried, secured $50,000 for a monument. Ross' family expressed its appreciation for the honor but said it thought the money could be used better elsewhere.
Students at E.G. Ross Elementary school in Albuquerque say they want to raise money to improve the upkeep of his burial site.
That's not a bad idea.
FRI, 6-9-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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