President Teddy Roosevelt, Wisconsin Gov. “Fighting Bob” La Follette and muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens might be spinning in their graves as 100-year-old reforms from the Progressive Era become undermined or forgotten.
Nationally, the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has eased restrictions on corporations and unions contributing to political campaigns.
Locally, the city of Durango has canceled its 100th anniversary celebration as a home-rule city.
Home rule was a reaction to state political machines plundering local government through cronyism and a spoils system of awarding contracts and jobs, said Kenneth Bueche, who wrote a history on home rule for the Colorado Municipal League.
Previously, cities were considered “creatures of state government” and “could not do anything unless expressly (granted) by the Legislature,” said Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League.
Under home rule, cities would control their own destiny, “separate from that corrupt body called the state Legislature,” Mamet said.
State governments no longer could micro-manage local affairs, such as personnel matters or polices.
Along with the city of Delta in 1912, Durango was the sixth Colorado city to adopt a home-rule charter. Delta and Durango also were the first small towns in Colorado to go to home rule.
Durango’s population was 4,800 at time. Historian Duane Smith does not think a local scandal precipitated home rule.
“We didn’t have bosses,” Smith said.
Rather, Smith thinks the local leaders were riding the national reform movement.
Bueche, however, said newspapers of the time show there was “considerable displeasure” with municipal government in Durango and in the other Colorado cities that were the first to adopt home rule.
“Citizen efforts to adopt home rule were initially opposed or delayed by some councils and others in establishment, but the persistence of citizens ultimately prevailed,” Bueche wrote.
The city had budgeted $5,000 to celebrate home rule Sept. 12, but it had to cancel the party when voters this year rejected a franchise agreement for the La Plata Electric Association, putting a $600,000 hole in the annual budget.
How the city was going to celebrate home rule was never decided, said City Manager Ron LeBlanc.
Of the 271 municipalities in Colorado, 100, or about 40 percent, have home rule, said Mamet.
Mamet believes the home-rule movement is more popular than ever. Other small cities such as Telluride, Pagosa Springs and Ouray have adopted home rule, but neighboring towns like Silverton, Bayfield and Ignacio are not home-rule cities.
Municipalities that don’t have home rule must look at state laws first before forming local policies on zoning or land use, Mamet said.
Mamet also said Durango was one of the first cities nationwide to adopt another Progressive reform, the city manager form of government.
A local mortician, Andrew Hood of Hood Mortuary, served as the city’s first manager from 1915 to 1919.