1.5 page essay style. ?12 point font double spaced. ?
Using current periodicals, find out what the California governor is doing to address one or more major issues.? Do you think the governor has much influence, or is our state mainly run by other factors such as the economy, the legislature, and public opinion?
Please use sources from the attached document
An Introduction with Suggested Online Resources
By George Gastil
Consider the lives of these three people:
A single mother is raising two young children. One of them has a serious illness and needs medical
treatment. Her job pays enough for her to feed her children and rent an apartment, but she does not have
An 18-year old student graduates from high school. She is not sure what she wants to do for a living, but
she is pretty sure it will involve a college education.
A young couple is looking for a home. They both recently got jobs in downtown San Diego, but they really
want to live away from the big city.
These people all have something in common. Each of them is likely to benefit from decisions made by our
The single mother might be eligible for health insurance programs that are funded largely by the state.
Even without health insurance, she could bring her child to a county hospital emergency room.
The young student can attend any community college in the state for only $36/unit, just a tiny fraction of
the real cost of her education. She also might be able to attend one of the campuses of the California State
University or the University of California, where the tuition is higher but the state is still paying a large
share of every student?s education.
The young couple will end up living in one of a variety of communities that have been developed according
to state and local guidelines. If the community was well planned it will have schools, parks, a library, and
other things people value. To get to work they will either drive on state funded roads or use state funded
public transportation systems.
State government has a tremendous effect on our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. I think more
people need to understand what our state government does and how we can work to make our state more
effective. I hope you find this introduction helpful. Overview of California Government and Politics
A. State government?legislative, executive and judicial.
B. Local government: cities, counties and regional governments.
C. School Boards, Colleges and Universities
D. Special Districts E. State/Federal Relations
F. Public Policy Issues; Special Public Policy Focus on Education G. Elections: Voters and Candidates
H. Interest Groups: Political Action and Lobbying
I. Political Philosophies A. California?s State Government?legislative, executive and judicial
When people think of California?s government, they usually think of the three branches of statewide
governance: the state legislature, the executive branch, and the state courts. Our state government actually
includes many entities, such as counties, cities, school boards, and water districts. We also have regulatory
agencies that are appointed rather than elected, such as the State Lands Commission and the California
Environmental Protection Agency. All of these bodies ultimately get their power from the three major
branches of state government.
Fun Fact: Sacramento is our capital city, and most people assume that all three branches are based there.
The legislature and the executive branch are based in Sacramento, but our State Supreme Court is actually
based in San Francisco.
The state legislature consists of the State Assembly and State Senate. The Assembly has 80 members
and the Senate has 40. Each state legislator is elected from a district that is redrawn every ten years. A
State Assembly member represents 1/80 of the state, or about 466,000 people, based on 2010 Census. A
State Senator represents twice that number. When the state population reaches 40 million people, each
State Senate district will contain about a million people!
Population inevitably grows faster in some areas than in others. For that reason, the districts must be
redrawn every decade to assure that they are roughly equal in population. The process of redrawing district
boundaries is called Redistricting. Redistricting of State Assembly and State Senate districts used to be
done by the legislature, but many people believed it was a conflict of interest for legislators to be able to
design their own districts. In 2008 voters decided to give the power to an independent commission. (In
2010 the voters decided to expand the role of the independent commission to also include drawing districts
for the U.S. House of Representatives.)
In a large metropolitan area such as San Diego, several State Assembly members represent various parts of
San Diego as well as the smaller cities and suburbs nearby. In a more rural area, such as the northeastern
part of California, one State Assembly member will represent several counties.
Fun Fact: Originally the members of the State Senate represented counties or groups of small counties. In
this way it was similar to the United States Senate, in which Senators represent states. In 1965 the United
States Supreme Court ruled that every legislator must represent approximately the same number of people.
This was called ?one man, one vote.? Because California?s counties are all very different in size it is
impossible for Senators to represent counties in any exact way.
In 1990 the voters approved Proposition 140, which limits the number of terms that legislators may serve.
According to Prop 140, Assembly members could serve three two-year terms for a total of six years and
State Senators could serve two four-year terms for a total of eight years.
In 2012 the voters approved Proposition 28, which changed the term limits. Instead of setting separate term
limits for the Assembly and Senate, Prop 28 set a limit of 12 years for service in the legislature. For example, someone could serve twelve years in the Assembly, but then they couldn?t serve in the Senate. If
they serve eight years in the Assembly, they could serve for four years in the Senate.
The people who support term limits have argued that legislators lose touch with the citizens if they are in
office a long time. They argue that legislative service is not supposed to be a lifetime career, and it is good
to get new people coming in every year.
Opponents of term limits argue that legislators need time to learn the issues, and that it is helpful for
legislators to be around for a while to see the results of their efforts. With legislators constantly coming and
going there is not enough ability to work on long term solutions to the state?s problems.
Most types of legislation can pass by majority vote in each house of the legislature. This means 41
Assembly members and 21 State Senators must vote for a bill. If a legislator is absent or chooses not to
vote, this is noted, but the real effect is essentially the same as if they voted against the bill.
Some items require a two-thirds vote. This is a requirement for tax increases. The two-thirds vote was
required for passing a budget as well, until voters changed that in November 2010 with the passage of
Proposition 25. Now the budget may be passed with a majority vote, like most bills.
As a result of the 2012 elections, the Democrats gained 2/3 or more of the seats in both houses of the
legislature. This is called a supermajority. In theory, the Democrats could use their supermajority to pass
laws, including tax increases, without any Republican support. They could also override the Governor, if
he decides to veto legislation. (The Governor is also a Democrat, though he is known for having his own
distinct views on many state issues.) In reality, the Democrats represent many different types of
communities, so they are likely to disagree among themselves on various issues.
In California the executive branch is actually represented by several elected officials. The Governor is the
official that people pay the most attention to, because he or she can sign and veto bills. Besides the
Governor, we have seven other statewide elected officials: Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General,
Secretary of State, Treasurer, Controller, Insurance Commissioner and Superintendent of Public
California also has a Board of Equalization with four members from different sections of the state plus the
State Controller. This board is in charge of collecting various taxes. The board?s role has changed many
times since it was created in 1879.
Some political scientists argue that it is inefficient to have so many elected officials sharing power in the
executive branch. The federal government only has a President and a Vice-President, who are elected
together. In California the Governor does have a cabinet, similar to the federal government, with appointed
officers such as a Secretary of Resources and a Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing (BTH).
Some would argue that the governor could be appointing the Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner,
Arguably, the voters have more control over their government if they get to elect various officers. On the
other hand, having so many officers who are not appointed by the governor or the legislature can lead to
confusion and wasted time. Also, I have noticed that most voters do not want to take the time to learn
about so many elected offices.
The fact that Democrats won all seven of these offices in 2010 would seem to indicate that many voters are
basing their decisions on party affiliation. (The office of State Superintendent is actually nonpartisan,
though the two major political parties do tend to make endorsements in this race.)
California has a system of ?checks and balances? much like the federal government. For example, the
Governor can veto a bill that is passed by the legislature. The legislature can override a veto with a 2/3
vote. In California the Governor also has what is known as the ?line item veto? when it comes to the state
budget. The Governor can cut single items from the budget without vetoing the entire budget. The
legislature can overturn a line-item veto with a 2/3 vote.
California also has an initiative process that allows voters to put legislation on the statewide ballot for a
direct vote of the people. (The items put on the statewide ballot, for the voters to decide, are called
Propositions as in Proposition 1, Proposition 2, etc.) In this way the people function as both the legislative
and executive branch, which goes against the basic idea of separation of powers. The people may enact
legislation or even change the state constitution by majority vote. The only check on their power is the
state court system, which has the authority to say if a law is constitutional.
Fun Fact: California?s Constitution has been amended by the voters about 500 times since it was enacted
in 1879. It is the third longest constitution in the world, surpassed only by Alabama and India.
B. Local and Regional Government
Local governments in California get their authority from the state government. Most people are familiar
with counties and cities. Here we will also discuss regional governments, which are created by
combinations of county and city governments.
California is divided into 58 counties. County governments handle a wide range of concerns such as
county hospitals, county libraries, the county sheriff and jail system, transportation systems, and welfare
programs. They also provide oversight for cities and school districts that are within their jurisdiction.
Fun Fact: According to the 2000 census, the largest county in the state in population is Los Angeles
County, with 9,519,331 people, and the smallest is Alpine County with 1,208.
California has 480 incorporated municipalities generally known as cities. In San Diego County the
largest city is San Diego with 1,223,400 people according to the 2000 census. Many people in the county
live in medium or small sized cities such as Escondido (128,819), El Cajon (pop 94,869), La Mesa (54,749)
and Lemon Grove (24,918).
Large cities, such as San Diego and Chula Vista, typically have their own police and fire departments and
provide a wide range of other services to their residents such as parks and recreation programs, libraries
and animal control. Smaller cities often have a contract with their county government for services or
purchase the services from a larger city. For example, the City of Lemon Grove has a contract with San
Diego County for police protection and a contract with the City of Chula Vista for animal control.
County governments are particularly important for managing the many areas of the state that are known as
unincorporated communities. ?Unincorporated? means outside of the jurisdiction of a city.
In San Diego County we have several large and heavily populated unincorporated areas, such as Spring
Valley, Lakeside, Ramona and Fallbrook. We also have many thinly populated unincorporated
communities such as Pine Valley, Julian, and Borrego Springs.
Regional governments have become particularly important since the 1980s. Some, such as the
Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), include several counties and the cities within those
counties. Others, such as the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) include all of the cities
and unincorporated areas within a particular county.
Regional governments are responsible for long range planning. They consider needs for an area such as
housing, transportation and economic development. They also provide valuable research on topics such as
population growth, poverty, and crime in their region. Regional governments typically plan ten, twenty or
even fifty years into the future. Decision making in regional governments is done by a body of representatives from the cities in a region as
well as the county. In California, voters do not actually vote for representatives to regional governments.
If a voter lives in a city they can vote for city council members, and the city council members will choose
one or more representatives from among the council.
Some other states have established regional governments in which the representatives are elected directly
by the voters. Portland, Oregon, is perhaps the best example of an effective regional planning body that is
elected directly by the voters.
C. School Boards, Colleges and Universities California has over one thousand school boards dealing with elementary and secondary education. Some
districts handle only elementary grades (K-6) while others handle grades Kindergarten through eighth grade
(K-8). Others, such as the Grossmont Union High School District and the Escondido Union High School
District, handle only high school.
Large urban areas such as San Diego often have ?unified? school districts that handle all the students from
Kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12). Sometimes rural areas can also have unified school districts, such
as the Mountain Empire Unified School District that serves much of the backcountry in San Diego County.
City boundaries are often not the same as school district boundaries. For example, the Lemon Grove
School District is actually includes parts of San Diego and La Mesa as well as all of Lemon Grove. School
districts are usually older than the incorporated cities that have developed in their area.
County school boards are crucial for supporting the districts within a county and educating students not
served by individual school districts. The San Diego County Office of Education is responsible for aiding
42 school districts and also runs the Juvenile Court and Community Schools.
Nearly all school boards have five members that are elected by the voters in the area.
Public higher education in California is handled by the Community Colleges, the California State
University and the University of California. In 1960 the state laid out a bold vision for these three entities
known as the Master Plan for Higher Education.
Most of the higher education in our state happens in the California Community Colleges. This system
has 110 colleges and enrolls more than 2.9 million students.
Community colleges are locally controlled. California has 72 college districts, each with an elected board
The second largest system of higher education in California is the California State University (CSU).
This system grants the majority of four-year degrees in our state, as well as most of the teaching
credentials, Masters Degrees, and many other professional degrees. The CSU is able to offer the doctorate
in just a few fields.
The CSU is run by a Board of Governors appointed by the Governor and the Legislature.
The University of California is the other institution of public higher education. Their primary focus is
research and graduate level education. Thousands of students choose to go there for undergraduate
education as well, perhaps because of the prestige of campuses such as UCLA and Berkeley.
The University of California is run by a Board of Regents appointed by the Governor and the Legislature.
The Lieutenant Governor serves as chair of the Board of Regents. The UC has its own charter and operates
independently from the legislature, though it still depends on the legislature for funding. Recently, some
legislators have proposed to make the UC more accountable to the legislature. D. Special Districts Special Districts are independent elected bodies set up to deal with a specific need in a particular
geographical area. There are over one thousand of these public entities in California, such as water
districts, utility districts, and fire protection districts.
Some special districts are large and powerful, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD),
the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID). Other districts are
not as well known but still very important, such as the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control
E. State/Federal Relations Much of state government is actually funded or controlled to a great degree by the federal government. For
example, California has a system of health insurance for the poor called MediCal that relies heavily on the
federal program known as Medicaid.
California cities also benefit tremendously from federal programs such as Community Development Block
Grants (CDBG), administered by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.
Federal money has also been influential in shaping education policy in our state since the 1960s. For
example, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funding for special programs in
schools that serve low income communities.
Overall, most people would agree the federal government plays a key role in supporting state governments.
However, this assistance can lead to confusion and controversy. School districts, cities and counties spend
a great deal of time keeping track of state as well as federal guidelines.
Perhaps the greatest controversy comes from the fact that California residents pay more in federal taxes
than we receive in federally funded services. In recent years, the estimate has been as low as 74 cents
worth of services for every dollar paid to the federal government.
California government leaders generally try to stay in close contact with their elected federal
representatives. California has the largest Congressional delegation, with 53 members of the House of
Representatives and two Senators. The large delegation in the House has rarely functioned effectively as a
group, however. They are often divided by partisan or ideological differences, or by regional differences
within the state.
F. Public Policy Issues Sections A-D described the basic structure of state government, with three branches at the state level and
various bodies at the local or regional level. Section E described its relationship to the federal level.
Section F will take a very different approach. Here we will be focusing on public policy issues that are
addressed at many different levels.
Citizens often think of their government in terms of public policy issues. Here it helps to know which
issues are dealt with by the federal government and which are primarily dealt with by state government.
Some issues are clearly within the range of the federal government, such as foreign policy, social security
and immigration. Most issues are dealt with by both the federal government and the state government, such
as education, health care and transportation.
Some issues are dealt with almost entirely by state government, such as laws relating to the age at which a
person can get married or purchase alcohol. Many people might not realize that states also have the ability
to set the minimum voting age, as long as it is not set higher than eighteen years. In every state the voting age is set at eighteen, but some states have considered legislation to lower the
minimum to 16. In recent years the California legislature has also considered legislation to allow seventeen
year olds to vote in primaries (held in June) if they will be eighteen by the time of the general election in
Fun Fact: No state in the United States has lowered the voting age below eighteen but advocates for a
lower voting age have had more success in Germany. Several of the states in Germany now allow persons
as young as 16 to vote in municipal elections.
Laws relating to marriage and family life are typically state laws. In recent years this fact has been
illustrated by the variety of laws related to couples of two men or two women. A few states allow for two
people of the same sex to get married, while many others have provisions to recognize domestic
partnerships with specific legal protections that are not as expansive as marriage. In fact, states actually
differ in how they define the rights and responsibilities of marriage. If you compare various states you will
notice they differ significantly in their laws related to divorce, child custody, and community property.
California state government tends to focus on eight major public policy areas: education, health care,
social welfare, public safety, economic development, transportation, housing and water. Most of the money
spent by our state, and most of the time spent in public discussion, centers around these eight major issues.
There are other issues, of course, such as civil rights, agriculture, utility regulation, public sector retirement
benefits, labor issues, prison reform, and environmental protection. Eventually I plan to expand this
document to cover all these issues, as well as others people might suggest.
Special Public Policy Focus: Education
Education is by far the largest part of the state budget. Here we will consider four particular types of
education: Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, and Higher
Though the state does have a significant role in regulating private schools and colleges, I will be focusing
only on public education because that is the most important area for public debate and public expenditures.
Early Childhood Education, or preschool, is most commonly handled by the private sector, though the
state government has taken on a major role in recent decades. (The federal government also plays a major
role through the Head Start program.)
Most elementary school districts in California now operate preschools in addition to the traditional
elementary grades. These preschools are funded by a program called State Preschool and also frequently
by money from the First Five Commission.
The First Five Commission is an independent statewide commission funded by a specially designated part
of the state tobacco tax. The Commission was created by Proposition 10, passed narrowly by the voters in
A growing body of research shows that preschool programs are effective for preparing students for
elementary school. State funded preschool programs are targeted to reach children from low income
families who may not be able to afford a private preschool program. The programs are also frequently
targeted to reach students with special learning needs.
Elementary and Secondary Education is often considered one broad area. People involved in state
government call this ?K-12? because it involves kindergarten through twelfth grade. Forty percent of the
state budget is devoted to K-12. In 1988 a proposition called ?Prop 98? established the current funding for elementary and secondary
education in California. Prop 98 is sometimes referred to as a ?K-14? measure because it also includes the
California Community College system.
In 1996 public education received another jolt with Class Size Reduction. This program provides funds to
allow school districts to reduce class sizes to twenty in grades K-3 and also in secondary education classes
for certain subjects. Public support has been very strong for lower class sizes, but many observers believe
the same amount of money could have produced more positive benefit if spent in other ways such as
expanding preschool opportunities and programs for students with reading difficulties.
Class Size Reduction led to a dramatic shortage of teach...
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