Throwback Thursday: Looking Back at 1921 and the Twenty-third General Assembly – Part 2

by Patti Dahlberg

In the first part of our look back at 1921 and the Twenty-third General Assembly, we learned that the “Roaring Twenties” we associate with economic prosperity and freewheeling social spirit started out with America struggling with a faltering economy and growing social unrest. By the time the General Assembly was gaveled into order the first week of January 1921, the Dow Jones had been spiraling downward for 12 months, the nation had suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history, and Colorado’s rural economy was faltering.

The General Assembly convened at “12 o’clock, noon” on Wednesday, January 5, 1921. At the time, the Colorado Constitution required the legislature to convene on the first Wednesday in January. In the House of Representatives, Mr. R.L. Shaw, the acting Chief Clerk of the House of the twenty-second General Assembly, called the House to order and read the official announcement from the Secretary of State’s office designating the members elected to the House. Mr. Shaw was then elected as temporary Chief Clerk (later elected the permanent Chief Clerk) for the twenty-third General Assembly and roll was called. Representative Godsman was unanimously elected as temporary speaker and escorted to the podium to make a few remarks. A committee on credentials was selected to certify the Secretary of State’s list of elected members, and another committee was appointed to inform the Supreme Court that the members of the House were ready to receive their oath of office. After the oath was administered, Representative Roy A. Davis of El Paso County was elected to preside as Speaker of the House and took the oath of office. (Photo from Presidents and Speakers of the Colorado General Assembly, Denver, Colorado, 2016 Edition.)  The 1921 House convening day session ended by adjourning in memory of Charles A. Raye, former Representative from Las Animas County.

Down the hall, the Senate was called to order by Lieutenant Governor George Stephan, presiding as the Senate President. (Before 1974, the constitution required the state’s Lt. Governor to serve as President of the Senate, voting only when needed to break a tie.) Roll for the holdover Senators was called, and the Senate President appointed several temporary staff members, including Mr. N.N McLean as temporary Secretary of the Senate (later elected the permanent Secretary). The Senate Secretary read the Secretary of State’s official announcement designating the newly elected Senators. A committee on credentials was selected to certify the Secretary of State’s list of elected members, and another committee was appointed to inform the Supreme Court that the newly elected Senators were ready to receive their oath of office. After the oath was administered, the new roll was called. The next order of business was election of a President pro tem of the Senate. Francis J. Knauss was elected with 24 votes and escorted before the bar of the Senate to receive the oath of office. Several days later, on Tuesday, January 11 (the 7th Legislative Day), a joint session was convened to introduce and administer oaths of office to the re-elected Governor Shoup and the newly elected Lt. Governor Earl Cooley, as well as other elected state officials. Lt. Governor Cooley was then presented with the Senate gavel to begin his duties as Senate president. (Photo from Presidents and Speakers of the Colorado General Assembly, Denver, Colorado, 2016 Edition.) 

On the third legislative day, Friday, January 7, 1921, the honorable Oliver H. Shoup, 22nd Governor of Colorado, addressed a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate. He began his address with “Great responsibility at all times rests on those charged with the duty of making and enforcing laws, and it is not an exaggeration to say that this responsibility rests heavy at this time both in State and Nation. The situation is hopeful rather than alarming, but must engage our most serious thought and consideration.” The state and national economy was suffering, and quoting from a recently attended Governor’s conference, he said, “The financial situation in the whole country is cause for the gravest concern but not for despair. All lines of business are realizing heavy losses, but the swift decline of prices of farm commodities to far below the cost of production threatens a national disaster. The situation demands infinite patience and forbearance and supreme wisdom and courage. Nothing but evil can result from anger or fear.”  He made a public appeal for individuals and communities to do all they could to help their neighbors and neighborhood businesses, and “to not destroy” good people because they cannot immediately meet obligations. He encouraged the General Assembly to legislate what relief it could to assist the people of Colorado, in particular farmers and stock growers who were especially hard hit.

Governor Shoup outlined legislative actions that he considered most important.  He asked for highway legislation for the state to construct and maintain public roads and highways, and to assign highway oversight responsibility to a state official who would report directly to him. He encouraged the Legislature to introduce a series of bills to consolidate state departments to eliminate work duplication. The Governor indicated that a new code was needed to systematize the state’s administrative work and asked the General Assembly to “submit to the people a proposal for a constitutional convention” to make the necessary changes to the state’s constitution. He proposed that the state’s budget process allow for more input from the Governor’s office and state departments and that the State Auditing Board be abolished in favor of a Central Purchasing Agency.

Other concerns were the disparity in teacher salaries across the state, term limits for public officials, protecting investors from the sale of worthless securities, job training and vocational education, and the need for more child welfare laws and for better laws to protect Colorado’s game and fish. He applauded the National Guard for its assistance in monitoring domestic disturbances and protecting life and property during the Tramway strike and asked for an appropriation to construct National Guard armories. He announced the revival of the Colorado Rangers (established in 1861, they served as the State’s first statewide law enforcement agency) and asked the legislature to appropriate the necessary funds for it. The Governor recommended an increase in the state’s low inheritance tax and suggested that state revenue could also be increased by gathering more accurate property information. He called for the legislature to appropriate money for higher education to help cover expenses until the mill levy money recently approved by voters would become available in 1922.

The members of the Twenty-third General Assembly introduced 632 House bills and 468 Senate bills, enacting 252 of them. During its 91 days of session that year, the General Assembly passed several bills appropriating money for the Agricultural College and its various satellite stations, the Fort Lewis School, Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado, University of Colorado Medical School, and the State Teachers College of Colorado. Other bills passed included a bill appropriating money for constructing armories for the National Guard or other military forces in Colorado and a bill relating to the National Guard of Colorado, which named the Governor as the Commander in Chief except when the guard was acting on behalf of the Federal Government. The legislature also passed bills that divided the State into four congressional districts, prohibited the practice of clairvoyancy, updated inheritance tax laws, equalized teacher salaries, required the teaching of Colorado history and civil government in public schools, and changed the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River. Several bills establishing game reserves throughout the state passed, as did several bills regarding highway laws, including the creation of the State Highway Department and some “Rules of the Road”. Several water bills passed: One appropriating money for the “Protection of Waters” to investigate and prepare to defend water rights; several authorizing various commissioners to negotiate water rights compacts between Colorado and neighboring states regarding the Arkansas, Colorado, La Plata, Laramie, and South Platte rivers; and several more regarding irrigation districts. The General Assembly passed Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 3 “Submitting to the qualified electors of the State of Colorado the question of holding a convention to revise, alter and amend the Constitution of the State of Colorado”. The ballot question was one of 10 ballot measures voted on in 1922 and lost 63% to 36%.

The legislature also passed several “relief” bills appropriating money for individuals, including one for Mrs. Edna B. Mulnix whose 11-year-old son was crushed by an elevator at the State Capitol Building the year before. The legislature passed several constitutional amendments, including amendments regarding property rights of aliens, establishing the elections of county officials, putting certain educational institutions under the management and control of the state, and setting terms of office for state officers, all to be voted on by Coloradans at the next general election. The legislature enacted a bill appropriating money for “correct lists” of the battles in which Colorado solders participated and of the names of Colorado soldiers who died or were killed in Civil War battles to be placed on tablets on the Monument to Colorado Soldiers on the west side of the Capitol Building. And the legislature adopted Senate Joint Resolution No. 19, placing a memorial stained glass window for David Halliday Moffat in the Senate chambers. On the last day of session, the House and Senate, between forming conference committees and adopting and rejecting reports and concurring and receding from positions, received “some candy for the lady members and clerks, some cigars for the men and some apples for all” as a show of appreciation and finally adjourned sine die at midnight on April 5, 1921.

How does this compare to today?

Luckily, we are not recovering from a devastating world war but we have experienced the devastation of a worldwide pandemic and the emotional and economic hardships resulting from losing family members and closing businesses. It has also been quite the year of social unrest. Based on the legislative leadership’s remarks at the beginning of the 2021 session, the top issues facing the legislature are helping the state recover from the current public health crisis, ushering in a quick economic recovery, getting any stimulus money to those who need it as quickly as possible, and assisting unemployed Coloradans. Other issues include addressing disparities in the health care system, criminal justice reform, law enforcement reform, lowering the cost of living, adequate highways and roads, meeting energy needs, and addressing systemic discrimination. The times may have changed, but many of the issues remain much the same.