Throwback Thursday: Looking Back at the Twenty-second General Assembly

By Patti Dahlberg

If we stepped back one hundred years and fifty legislative sessions, what would we find?

Well to start with, when the dust cleared from the 1918 elections, the Democrats retained control of the Senate with 21 Democrats to 14 Republicans, but lost control of the House of Representatives with 41 Republicans to 24 Democrats, almost a complete flip in numbers from 1917. This House flip in Colorado mirrored political power flips in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as in many state assemblies across the country.

Coloradans passed three initiatives in November of 1918. The Bone dry prohibition law initiative passed 63% to 36% and made Colorado one of the driest states in the country. The ballot measure Placing state civil service in the Constitution passed 64% to 35% and moved civil service laws from the statutes into the constitution. The Relief of the adult blind measure passed 93% to 6% and provided for the creation of a commission to consider applications for financial assistance by persons who were blind. In addition, two referendums passed. Limiting the time for introduction of legislative bills passed 77% to 22% and required all bills, except the general appropriations bill, to be introduced within the first 15, instead of 25, days of the legislative session. Concerning the publication of proposed constitutional amendments and initiated and referred laws passed 88% to 11% and required ballot proposals to be published at least twice and in two different publications in each county.

The Twenty-second General Assembly

The General Assembly convened at “12 o’clock, noon” on Wednesday, January 1, 1919. The Colorado Constitution required a January 1 convening date at the time. In the House of Representatives, Mr. M.D. Bowen, the Chief Clerk of the House of the twenty-first General Assembly, called the House to order and read the official announcement and designation of members elected to the House. Representative Allyn Cole of Prowers and Baca Counties was elected to preside as Speaker of the House. (Photo from Presidents and Speakers of the Colorado General Assembly, Denver, Colorado, 2016 Edition.) The Senate was called to order by Lieutenant Governor James A. Pulliam, who presided as Senate President. Before 1974, the constitution required the state’s Lieutenant Governor to serve as President of the Senate, voting only to break a tie. Speeches were made, opening day committees were formed, the governor was notified. The House went on to start their work for the session, introducing “House Concurrent Resolution No. 1, by Messrs. Wilcox and Colgate” to ratify the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution “prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors…”, and ending the convening day by remembering its deceased members from the Twenty-first General Assembly, Messrs. Baar, DuPraw, McDonald, and Murphy.

On the 14th legislative day, Tuesday, January 14, 1919, the newly elected Governor of Colorado, the honorable Oliver H. Shoup, presented his inaugural address to a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate to direct their attention to matters he considered important and to assure them of his cooperation on addressing these matters. High on his list was determining how best to honor the sacrifice of and provide for almost 25,000 Colorado solders. Governor Shoup recommended that the legislature provide for returning soldiers to attend Colorado’s state institutions of learning tuition-free and for free medical treatment for wounded soldiers. The legislature responded by funding an educational loan fund for soldiers and appropriating additional funding to the University of Colorado to offer additional classes for those who served in the Armed Services or in the Red Cross. The General Assembly also set aside money for a memorial for Colorado’s soldiers who served in the First World War, and on the last day of the session the legislature designated November 11 as “Liberty Day”.

Governor Shoup recommended that the legislature implement a budget system to guide the state’s expenditures and eliminate over-appropriation. He encouraged the legislature to invest in building good roads and to work with federal programs for highway construction and funding. He asked that the legislature simplify the workmen’s compensation process and make the prompt payment of just claims mandatory. He encouraged additional funding for education and other state institutions and called for the creation of a state institution for the treatment of the acutely insane. The legislature created the Office of the Budget and Efficiency Commissioner, which also required state agencies to submit budgets to the governor, and passed two bills to help fund highway construction: a Special tax created for the building of highways and a one cent per gallon tax.  In addition, the legislature passed the “Workmen’s Compensation Act of Colorado” and established the Psychopathic Hospital and Laboratory of the University of Colorado in Denver.

The Governor emphasized the importance of fostering, protecting, and stimulating the various industrial  interests of Colorado with improved transportation options, equitable freight rates, and the fair inspection and grading of products. The General Assembly enacted laws regarding livestock branding, state ore testing, and grain, produce, and mine inspections. Other general recommendations from the Governor included establishing a Civil Service Commission to enforce the recently adopted constitutional amendments regarding civil service laws, enacting a blue-sky law to protect consumers against the sale of worthless stocks, and providing for the codification and publication of the state’s statutes. The legislature established the Civil Service and Blind Benefit commissions and appropriated money for these entities. Bills to penalize the false representation of stocks for sale and creating a commission for the compilation of statutes to revise, consolidate, codify, edit, and prepare for publication the general laws of the State of Colorado were enacted.

In closing, Governor Shoup said, “We are entering upon a new era of National and State affairs. Let us not lightly abandon that which experience has proven to be good, nor stubbornly refuse to accept that which is new, simply because it is new. Let us at all times and in all things, give to the people of Colorado, whose servants we are, the best that is in us, unswayed by any consideration other than the public welfare. To do more is beyond us, to do less is beneath us.”

In all, the members of the General Assembly introduced 593 House bills and 436 Senate bills; passed around 210 bills; and adjourned sine die on April 7, 1919, at 6 o’clock.

So what was the climate in 1919?

Heading into 1919, Colorado and the rest of the country were relieved to see an end to World War I (WWI) but would soon be facing economic and public health issues arising out of the war and the Spanish Flu pandemic. WWI was the first global conflict using modern warfare and consequently was one of the deadliest conflicts in history. An estimated seven million civilians and 10 million military personnel died from war-related causes — bombings, poison gas attacks, combat, accidents, disease, or deaths as prisoners of war. Other estimates put the combined total of casualties closer to 40 million. After four years of fighting in Europe, the combatants declared an armistice on November 11, 1918. The large number of American troops sent overseas (more than two million men in combat or combat services) and the wait for a seat on a ship back meant that most soldiers did not return home until well into 1919, long after the celebrations ended. The ill and wounded returned with slow-healing wounds, amputated limbs, and blindness or with war-caused health problems such as gas-related tuberculosis or the newly coined “shell shock” (now termed post-traumatic stress disorder). As if that were not enough, the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic infected 500 million people worldwide and left an estimated 20 to 50 million people dead. Just over 1,000 Colorado military personnel were killed or died in service during WWI, but almost 8,000 flu deaths were recorded in Colorado during a 10-month period.

Many of the able-bodied veterans returning home found re-adjusting to civilian life difficult. There was no GI Bill or other financial or educational benefits for veterans at that time; many found high unemployment, business bankruptcies, and falling wages. The high demand for the U.S. agricultural products that “fed the world” during the war years dropped, slowing down the economy even more. The fighting had stopped, but the post-war world now seemed out of control. In Europe, old empires were crumbling; the Russian Bolshevik Revolution ushered in communism, which threatened to overrun Europe. There were workers’ risings in Berlin, Bavaria, and Bremen. Factory seizures, strikes, and various revolutions took hold and then waned in Budapest, Barcelona, Paris, Lyons, Brussels, and Glasgow, across the ocean to Canada in Nova Scotia, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and even in the United States in Seattle, Boston, and Cleveland. These localized disturbances were soon followed by national steel and coal strikes.

How does this compare to today?

Luckily, we are not recovering from a devastating world war or flu pandemic. Based on opening day remarks by legislative leadership, however, the hot topics continue to be funding for transportation and education improvements. Other issues include addressing teacher shortages, opioid addiction, health care costs and coverage, inequities in the criminal justice system, and improving the quality of life in Colorado through economic development, job security, affordable housing, increasing renewable energy use, protecting water and air quality, and preserving our natural resources. The times have changed, but many of the issues remain much the same.