How Your Government Works and Where to Take Your Political Beef
The U.S. government is set up in a way that the majority of the power is never in held by one level. Instead, it is divided pretty equally among the federal government (meaning the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, all in Washington, D.C.), the state governments and the local governments.
The good news: that means no one governmental agency or body is able to take over and completely run shit. The bad news: it can be confusing af.
And as proven by the election earlier this month, many people still have no idea how our three-tiered government works! Our government is a system of checks and balances, which means the power to make change is distributed among these three levels of government.
So, to solve this epidemic, we put together this handy guide so that you know where to take your problem, whether it be with a law, or with a specific orange person, so you’re not wasting time barking up the wrong tree.
We’ll start with the big stuff. The federal government is divided into three branches: executive, judicial and legislative. You’ve got your president, who heads up the executive. You can’t call him directly to complain (unfortunately), but if you have problems with our current president-elect, you can be one of the zillion people writing into his office or wait it out for two years until the midterm elections in 2018 to vote more Democratic members into the legislative branch to offset all of the Republican control.
Midterm elections are basically a check-in point on how the president and his party are doing as far as keeping the people happy. If the Republican party is in control of Congress, and more Democratic members are elected during midterms, the president and his party’s performance will be brought into question.
Congress is part of the legislative branch, also known as Congress is divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate. Every state has members in both which are elected to serve. These are the groups who create and pass bills that are recognized nationally. Congress the only part of the government that can make new laws or change existing laws. They’re also responsible for taxes, so if you feel like you are paying too much, you can vote to elect more fiscally conservative members to Congress.
You can also directly call the office of your respective congress member if you have an issue with thing like federal laws, student loan programs, economic concerns, foreign policy or education reform, you should bring it to the attention of your congressperson. Their phone numbers and office locations can be found here.
The Judicial branch is unfortunately not really elected by the people, but instead the president and then confirmed by Senate. The Supreme Court members are appointed for life and chosen by the president, so if you elect a president with a certain set of opinions and views, they will likely elect someone to the Supreme Court who will decide cases with similar views. They hear cases in which the Constitution is being questioned, and they interpret it to apply to each case. Their rulings set precedent and are used by the states to interpret the Constitution.
This is where you take your complaints about things like school funding, highways, road tolls and gas taxes. Although the state government is shaped and formed to look like the federal government, what they handle tends to be completely different. Like the federal, the state has three branches. Your governor heads the executive branch, and he or she is directly elected by the people. So if your state is passing laws that you don’t like, talk to the governor’s office.
Every state has a legislative body that looks like Congress. Every member is elected to represent a county or district, and their job is to delegate on matters brought forth by the governor or introduced by its members. After consideration, either the body creates legislation that becomes law in that state, or it is killed. The legislative body also approves the state’s budget and makes amendments to the state’s tax regulations.
A state’s judicial system is similar to the federal Supreme Court. The state supreme court hears cases that originate from lower-level state courts. They correct errors made in lower courts and therefore holds no trials, but instead make rulings. These rulings are normally taken as fact, but if the ruling is questioned for it’s consistency with the Constitution, it can be appealed directly to the federal Supreme Court.
This is your Leslie Knope-esque stuff. This is where you take your issues about your town’s parks, early bar closing times, your shitty downtown area or parking problems.
Similar to the larger forms, a local government has representatives that are on the city council. Your specific district in your city has it’s own representative. You can find them and where to reach them on your city’s website if you have a problem.
Local governments are broken up into two divisions: counties and cities/towns. The The cities/towns can also interchangeably be called townships, villages and boroughs. The city government is responsible for the parks and recreation services, police and fire departments, housing services, emergency medical services, municipal courts, public transportation and public works.
Local city officials, including mayors and city councils, are directly elected by the people, so if your officials aren’t doing their job or they have done something that you disagree with, use the election to get them out of office. Local elections happen every two years, so get out and use your voice!