It is a bit too easy for us to wag our fingers at the people of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy for choosing the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. It is a little more difficult to reconcile and understand our own political shortcomings right here in Colorado.
In one of the more embarrassing chapters of Colorado conservative history, Clarence Morley, the Ku Klux Klan-picked Republican candidate, became Governor of Colorado in 1925.
“In the spring of 1924, Klan members packed the precinct caucuses of both the Democratic and Republican parties, then supported Klan candidates in the primary and general elections.” according to a 2003 article by Ed Quillen. “In Colorado, the Klan captured few Democratic nominations, but had its most success infecting the Republicans.”
Jason Brockman and Erin McDanal, staff archivists for the Colorado State Archive, said Morley’s “political ascent paralleled the anti-minority, anti-foreign, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic sentiment that existed throughout the country during the 1920s.”
Under the charismatic and persuasive tutelage of Grand Dragon John Galen Locke, the Klan was able to create one of strongest political machines in state history. Locke, the short, extremely overweight Denver physician, ran the Klan and much of the state from his office at 1345 Glenarm Place.
“Beyond any doubt the KKK is the largest and most cohesive , most efficiently organized political force in the state,” according to the Denver Post at the time. Locke, as Klan Grand Dragon controlled Morley as Governor, Ben Stapleton as mayor of Denver, obtained a majority in the House and Senate, elected the Secretary of State, and secured a Supreme Court Judgeship and seven benched in Denver District Court, according to state archivists.
Although, on cue Locke espoused the usual Klan nonsense messages of hate and bigotry in public, but didn’t seem to live the life himself. “He had been married to a Catholic and employed two Catholic secretaries, paying their pew rents,” wrote Dark Cloud column author Richard L. MacLeod of the Boulder Lout Forum.
He was also known to look the other way in additional examples. Catholics in the northwest Denver were able to build St. Catherine of Siena parish by holding lavish and lucrative bingo parties that eventually led to the nick-naming of “the carnival parish” in the Harkness Heights area of North Denver.
“Even the Ku Klux Klan could not stop St. Catherine’s,” noted Thomas J. Noel of the Archdiocese of Denver. “According to Judge John J. Dunn, whose mother was John Galen Locke’s nurse, and his father happened to be a long-time patient of Dr. Locke, it was Locke who arranged bingo permits for St. Catherine’s with Denver’s anti-Catholic chief of police, William Clandish.”
Locke was also known to have contributed philanthropically to Jewish and Black charities as well, and is widely considered to have promoted the Klan as a means to political power rather than committed universally to its philosophies of hate and bigotry.
Most of the Klan-sponsored legislation during the time of Morley’s Governorship was effectively killed in committee by anti-Klan Republicans and a small but tenacious group of Democrats which included future Governor Billy Adams.
After Morley left office, he established a stock brokerage in Indiana. In 1935, however he returned to Denver to reestablish his law practice. “His plans were interrupted, however, when he was arrested in 1935 for mail fraud,” according his biography at the state archive.
“While he was found not guilty in Colorado, the Federal courts indicted him for 21 counts of mail fraud and for using his prestige and past public office connections to defraud his customers. Morley was found guilty on these charges and was sentenced to Leavenworth Prison for five years,” according to Brockman and McDanal of Colorado State Archives.