Celebrate Colorado Day by revisiting the state's worst scandals

What's the best way to mark Colorado Day? Should we go outside and contemplate nature? Pet a cow instead of eating one? Or listen to John Denver albums until your brain begins to boil and your ears erupt in pustules? Not according to the citizens behind Colorado Ethics Watch. Instead, they've come up with their roster of the state's most grievous ethical scandals, starring morally dubious individuals like former Colorado Governor James H. Peabody, who was sworn in and resigned on the same day during the early 1900s. Look below for a press-release preview of the project, and then click here to read the entire report. Celebrate bad times -- come on!

Ethics Watch Lists Top Ethics Scandals in Colorado History

DENVER - In honor of Colorado Day on August 1, Colorado Ethics Watch released a list of Top Ethics Scandals in Colorado History. The list ranges from outrageous to outlandish, and is a valuable reminder of how a government that operates without public scrutiny or accountability can wield dangerous results. The report describes five of the most egregious ethics scandals in our state history, ranging from election fraud to government-sanctioned racial discrimination and brutality.

"Although the nature of corruption has evolved over time, one thing has not changed: government malfeasance by a few public officials erodes public confidence in government as a whole," said Ethics Watch Director Chantell Taylor. "Like the Coloradoans of history, citizens today should continue to demand transparency at all levels of government and to hold public officials accountable for their ethical lapses. In this way, we can promote a government that puts the interests of all citizens above their own special interests."

Based primarily on historic news reports and an interview of a local historian, Ethics Watch compiled the following list of top ethics scandals in Colorado history, in chronological order:

Corruption and Fraud in 1904 Gubernatorial Election

The 1904 election for Colorado Governor pitted the incumbent James H. Peabody against Democrat Alva Adams, who was initially declared the winner and sworn into office. After claims of voter fraud, election fraud and various conspiracies, the election was ultimately decided by a manipulative Republican-controlled legislature that forced a swearing in of Governor Peabody, immediate resignation, and subsequent swearing in of Lieutenant Governor Jesse F. McDonald, making Colorado the only state in the union to have three governors in one day.

Ludlow Massacre of Miners on Strike -- 1913-14

In the early 20th century, mining company operators wielded powerful political clout and almost completely controlled Las Animas and Huerfano Counties. A 1913 strike turned into violent confrontations supported by governor-ordered Colorado National Guard troops who worked on behalf of the mining companies. On one fateful day in 1914, violence resulted in 25 people dead, including three National Guardsmen and 11 children of striking miners. The 1913-1914 Colorado coal strike was one of the most violent strikes in U.S. history, and the Colorado Senate condemned Governor Ammons' administration for its role in the violence.

Ku Klux Klan's Control over State Politics -- 1920s

In the early to mid 1920's, Denver, Grand Junction, Pueblo, Canon City and many other towns in Colorado were controlled by the Ku Klux Klan. The only city in Colorado to reject the Klan was Colorado Springs. From the governor taking direct orders from the Colorado KKK Grand Dragon, to the mayor consulting the Klan when making appointments, the Ku Klux Klan created fear in all those they opposed, including Catholics, blacks, and Jews.

Impeachment of Secretary of State James H. Carr Carr -- 1934

James H. Carr was elected secretary of state in 1934 and impeached by the Colorado House just one year later in a 1935 special session for extortion, conspiracy and malfeasance. Carr took a bribe from a wholesale liquor supplier, hired political cronies as auditors in exchange for kickbacks, was guilty of extortion of a car dealer and more. Secretary Carr was only the second person to be impeached since Colorado became a state in 1876.

Burglars in Blue -- 1961

In 1961, the Denver Police Department was implicated in one of the worst scandals of U.S. law enforcement in history. At the time, an alarming number of Denver police officers were facing indictments for crimes such as stealing from previously burglarized stores, staging burglaries and safecracking. Ultimately, 54 present or former police officers were implicated in more than 130 burglaries and 47 Denver police officers were convicted as a result of an investigation by Colorado Governor McNichols.

The full report, including a bibliography of historical references and articles cited, can be found online at

Colorado Ethics Watch is a non-profit, legal watchdog group dedicated to identifying and exposing ethics issues in city, county and state governments in Colorado, ultimately holding public officials accountable. Colorado Ethics Watch is the only state-specific project of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts