There’s more to government than Washington, DC
DAY 9 ACTION: Learn who your state legislators are, and save their contact info!
Since the 2016 election, many of us have been focused on the federal government and the big changes that could be made by the Trump Administration. However, it’s also important to pay attention to our state and local governments. Lots of important decisions are made at these levels of government. And state legislatures have become a lot more conservative over the past 8 years.
State legislatures pass state laws, in the same way that Congress passes federal laws. (Governors and agencies then carry out the law, and courts settle legal disputes.) The U.S. Constitution gives certain law-making power to Congress and then says everything else is handled by the states. State laws include speed limits, school funding, and the creation of state parks.
State legislatures also play a few special roles that can make a big difference in Washington, DC. First, in 37 states, the state legislatures draw the boundaries for Congressional districts. The party in power often draws the lines to improve the chances of their party in each district. This can result in pretty dramatic politics, like the time in 2003 that 11 Democrats in the Texas Senate fled to New Mexico and Oklahoma for 46 days to stall a vote on a pro-Republican redistricting plan.
Second, state legislatures decide how the state’s presidential electors are chosen under the U.S. Constitution’s 12th Amendment. Third, they propose and ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution. There have been 33 amendments proposed; states have ratified 27. The 27th Amendment (addressing how Members of Congress can give themselves raises) was ratified in 1992, 202 years after being originally proposed!
Like the federal government, most states have a “bicameral” or two house legislature – a lower house (often called a General Assembly or House of Delegates) and an upper house (often called the Senate). Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature. In most states, you have one representative in each house. Each state sets its own rules about term limits, numbers of legislators, and voting laws.
Your state representatives play a critical role in local, state, and federal political systems. Do you know who they are? If you do, that’s great! Skip to step 2 below.
Today’s action: Step 1. Learn who your state legislators are, using this website. Click on your state, and look for “who is my legislator” or “find my legislator”. (We could not find this feature on Illinois’ website . . . tweet at us @misciendias if you see it!) Step 2. Enter their phone numbers into your phone. We’ll need these later!