How Government Works

 

By D. A. Sharpe

 

 

 

This document examines the four levels of government and who are the people that inhabit the public offices.  It also explains the input of citizens have who are registered voters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Table of Contents

 

1.     Government in the United States

How are we Structured

 

2.     How & What Are Office Holders We Elect?

 

3.     What are Political Parties?

 

4.     The Electoral College – What is it?

 

5.     The Political Parties in Texas

 

6.     When are candidates determined?

 

7.     What and When are Party Conventions?

 

8.     Who Can Vote?

 


 

Why This Document

About Government Was Composed

 

 

Many of my friends and acquaintances are interested in one regard or another in what’s going on in government or among elected officials (politicians).  In discussing these subjects with them, often I find that there is more knowledge many need to have a better grasp of our national, state and local governance, and how political officials function.  This document, structured as a course, seeks to provide that.

 

You may feel free to copy or forward any of it for positive teaching purposes. It is not copyrighted. I do hope it’s useful to you.

 

D. A. Sharpe

805 Derting Road East

Aurora, TX 76078-3812

 

817-504-6508

da@dasharpe.com

www.dasharpe.com

 

For readers who may not know me, here is some information:

 

Who is Dwight Albert (D. A.) Sharpe?

 

Facebook Account:  Dwight Albert Sharpe


 

1.     Government in the United States

How are we Structured?

 

 

We have four levels of government which provide rules, guidance and protection in the United States:

1.    The Federal Government (National level)

2.    The State Government

3.    The County Level

4.    The Local Level

Most Texas voting citizens have about 50 elected officials for whom they have occasional opportunity to vote among these four levels of government. 

 

The Federal, State and County levels of government are partisan elections.  The candidates in the General Elections all are candidates represent a political party or an independent candidate running against the party nominated candidates. 

 

The Local level of governments are non-partisan. Primarily, those entities are cities, school boards and other miscellaneous units, such as water boards, etc.  All candidates in those entities run as independent citizens, not nominees of a political party.  All candidates running for local elective positives probably have personal associations or leanings toward a political party, but their campaigning is not including references to political parties, nor are any of those candidates nominated by a political party.

 

1.    The Federal Government of the United States of America is composed of three primary branches.  Every voter has five officer holders for whom to vote on the federal level.

a.    The Congress is the Legislative body that makes laws.  It has a House of Representatives, composed of 435 elected representatives from the 50 states and five non-voting representatives from various U.S. territories. The population size of the average congressional district is 700,000+.  The districts are re-sized after every 10 years of taking the US Census.  The hyperlink above shows how the states were increased, decreased or remained the same in 2010.  The other part of the Congress is the U.S. Senate. It is composed of two elected Senators from each of the 50 states, regardless of size of the state’s population.

                                                               



 

b.    The Presidential Branch, headed by the person elected as the President of the United States, Donald John Trump. The oversight responsibilities are over all the administrative functions of the Federal government, enforcement of its laws, the maintaining of a military.   The President is assisted by the elected Vice President, Mike Pence

                          


c.    The Judicial Branch, which are courts that preside over civil issues brought to court my complaining individuals or corporations between each other, or criminal issued brought by enforcing agencies or by individuals affected in the crime.  The President nominates persons to be federal judges, and the Senate of the Congress approves them. The highest court in the land (the last word on legal matters) is the 9-member Supreme Court.  All federal judge appointments are for their lifetime or for whenever one choses to retire. 



2.    The State Government (Texas in this case).  Under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all powers not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states and the people. All state governments are modeled after the federal government and consist of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.  There are 30 Texas state offices for which to vote.

State Legislature (The body that makes laws). Similar to the federal government, it has a House of Representatives and a Senate.  They meet in the odd number years from January to June.  These are sometimes called the lower house and the upper house.  There are 150 districts of one House Representative, each elected for 2 year terms.  The population average of the average Texas House district is about 170,000.  There are 31 State senators, each one elected from an apportioned district averaging in population of about 900,000.  The Texas Legislature resizes every ten years as well. 

The Executive Branch, which is the
Governor of the State that carries out the putting into effect or enforcing the laws the State Legislature passes, IF the Governor approves them. 

 

a.    There are other state-wide elected officials who were not present at the Red Gala either.  Here is a list of their offices:


                                              i.     Lieutenant Governor (presides over the Senate)

                                            ii.     Attorney General (the State’s lawyer)

                                          iii.     Comptroller of Public Accounts (State’s CPA)

                                          iv.     Commissioner General Land Office

                                            v.     Commissioner of Agriculture

                                          vi.     Railroad Commissioner (3 of them, manage oil industry

                                        vii.     Justice Supreme Court Places 1 through 9

                                      viii.     Presiding Judge Court of Criminal Appeals, places 1 through 9



 

b.    The Judicial Branch, which are courts that preside over civil issues brought to court my complaining individuals or corporations between each other, or criminal issued brought by enforcing agencies or by individuals affected in the crime.  They are in vii and viii above.

 

c.    The County Level administers governance over the geography of the whole county.  Texas has 254 Counties.  Our county is Wise County.  Counties have the similar Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches as doe the Federal Government and the State Governments.  It has a variety of elected officials, listed below. Each county is administrated by a five-member Commissioners' Court consisting of four elected commissioners elected from single-member districts (called commissioner precincts) and a county judge elected from the county at-large.  Every county in Texas has four Commissioner Districts, and one elected official for each Commissioner District. Each county branch is headed by someone who is elected by the voting public.  Wise County has 23 offices for which to vote and 14 county officers who are appointed by the Commissioners’ Court.  A given citizen votes for 14 of these 23 offices.    In some states, what we call counties are called parishes in Louisiana or Boroughs in Alaska. 

 

d.    Legislative Branch:  The County Commissioners Court is the legislature making body.  Every county in Texas has four Commissioner Districts, and two elected officials for each Commissioner District

 

 

e.    The Executive Branch is the administration of the County’s business, carried out by the elected County Judge and the administrative staff he hires.  The county judge administers the departments of the county government.  The judge does not have authority to veto a decision of the commissioners’ court, but the judge votes along with the commissioners (being the tie-breaker in close calls).  In smaller counties, the county judge does perform judicial duties, but in larger counties the judge's role is limited to administrative duties on the commissioners’ court and certifying elections.

 



f.     The Judicial Branch are the local county courts addressing issues relative to the county laws and the citizen complaints and the local policing enforcement issues.

g.    The County Sheriff maintains the County Jail to house arrested alleged law breakers against laws in the county and for city police departments that may not have jail facilities.  The law enforcement duties are in the non-city areas of the county, or in the case of a small city that does not have its own police department, such as we see in Aurora, TX.

h.    The County Clerk administers civic records, such as birth certificates, death certificates, marriages, property transactions being recorded

i.     The County Tax Accessor-Collector oversees the administration of estimating the value of real estate and homes so that the annual tax rate made by the County Commissioners Court.  In addition to figuring out how much tax property owners should pay, the County Tax Accessor-Collector, sends out an annual invoice and collect the money for that year’s tax. It also collects fees for drivers’ license and automobile license plate renewals.


j.     The District Judge is elected to preside over a District Court.  In our case, the 271st District Court covers all Wise County and all of Jack County, the county immediately to the west of us. More populous counties have one or more District Court serving each county. There are nine such large counties in Texas

k.    The District Attorney is the prosecutor in district courts for criminal charges in this dual district of Wise and Jack Counties.  It also maintains records of all criminal proceedings which occur in the county courts.



l.     The Wise County Attorney is an attorney who represents the County in legal matters.   


m.  The District Clerk records acts or proceedings from the District Court by the elected Judge, administers child support payments, trust accounts ordered by a judge for children, keeps files on what should be paid to citizens who serve on court room juries.


 

n.    The County Treasurer pays the bills approved for payment.  The Treasurer assists the County Judge and the Commissioners Court with information for them to form the annual county budget.



o.    Their four Justice of the Peace courts and their Judges (called Justices of the Peace) in every Texas county.  Their area covers the same area as the County Commissioners.  i.e. the 3rd Precinct area for the County Commissioner is the same area for the 3rd Precinct Justice of the Peace.



p.    Constable:  For each Precinct Justice of the Peace Court, there is a Constable elected.



q.    The Commissioners Court appoints 14 department heads for some important duties, but they are appointed, not elected by the voters.  Routinely, they are nominations by the county judge, and voted on at the Commissioners’ Court.

Asset Management
Auditor
Elections Administrator

Emergency Management Coordinator
EMS Administrator
Engineer
Fire Marshall
Indigent Health Care
Information Technology
911 Addressing
Public Works
Systems Administration
Veterans Service
Wise County Animal Shelter

 


 

3.    Local City, School Districts and other miscellaneous districts that vary from place to place.  So, our voters have at least four offices for which to vote.

a.    City:  Westmoreland’s do not live in a city, but we live in the city of Aurora.  We vote on a Mayor  and our district City Council members.  Aurora has 3 districts, with 2 council members in each.  We vote for a mayor and two councilmembers in elections on the first Tuesday in May during the odd numbered years.. 

b.    School District:  Public School Districts will have School Board of Trustees to elect.  We are in the Northwest Independent School District.  Each voter would vote on one position.  That district has six elected members of the Board.  These elections also are on the first Tuesday in May of the odd numbered years. 

c.    Some locations have other public entities for which their board members are subject to election.  We don’t have any, but it could be an organization, such as a water board or a special development board, etc. 

 

 



 


2.  How & What Are Office Holders We Elect?

 

 

 

The terms of office for most all elected positions are four years each.  United State Senators in Congress and, in Texas, State Senators serve six year terms.  For the United States Houses of Representatives in Congress and in the Texas State Legislature, they serve two year terms.

 

 

The terms of United States President are limited by law to election to two four-year terms.  If a President vacates that office (usually it’s for death reasons), the Vice President automatically completes the term of office that President was serving.  Then the Vice President, who became President, still could run for election in up to two additional terms. 

An interesting fact most people don’t know is that a former U.S. President could serve subsequently as a Vice President, should a nominated candidate for President should select him or her to run for Vice President.  If that President died during a four-year term, that Vice President, who is a Former President, could serve again as a President, but only until the end of that term.  The Constitution does limit Presidents being elected to only for two elections. 

 

 

The idea is that Senators, both nationally in Congress and in the State Legislatures, are intended to be more stable services of experience and maturity, having six year terms.  The idea that “the people” should be more rapidly represented by possible changing views among the voters is what brought the House of Representatives in Congress and the House of Representatives in the State Legislatures to two terms each. 

 

 

Nationally, the only office with a term limitation is the Presidency.  Appointments to the federal judiciary are life-time appointments, made by the President of the United States, and approved by the Senate of the Congress.  Those terms end only at the event of death or voluntary resignation (retirement or deciding to pursue some other activity in life).

 

 

The examples in this document about government at the State, County or Local levels are for Texas.  Most other states are similar situations, but some have slightly varied forms of virtually the same approach to governing.  In some states, local elections are partisan elections.  The candidates are representatives nominated by the respective political party.  Usually these are the Democratic or Republican Parties or some lessor known political party.

 

 

In all the cases of four-year terms, approximately half of them are up for re-election in each General Election.  That keeps a rotation of new and incumbent officers elected. 

 

When are General Elections?  General Elections, by Federal Law, are held the Tuesday after the first Monday in November of the even numbered years.  The earliest possible date is November 2 and the latest is November 8, which we had in 2016.

 

 

 

Who are the candidates on the ballot of General Elections?  Each political party has its candidate for each of the offices for which that party has chosen to run.  It was determined in the Party Primary Election in March in Texas.  

 


 

3  .   What are Political Parties?

 


What are the political parties?
  There are two predominate political parties that have operated in the United States for at least the past century.   There are several other political parties existing, each existing usually around a focus of advocacy, but none of such parties have resulted in election success. 

 

 

The Democratic Party views tend to seek the best overall good for the citizens through creating governing structures that see to it that the results of public benefits have general equality among the citizens. 

 

The Republican Party tends to represent ideas that the best good for the most citizens can result in less government structure, thus allowing more freedom for citizens to choose opportunities to reap benefits of life. 

 

These are over simplified descriptions, but can serve the purposes of this document.

In today’s competitive political world, it’s easy to perceive that both these political parties (and the few small parties) view the other party as grossly wrong and representative of negative values.  The truth is that each Democrat and each Republican believes they are advocating for the best good for all the people.  It’s just that each have differing views about how best that good is accomplished. 

 

It is legal for a third party to exist in the United States, but no third-party effort in the past couple of centuries has been successful.  The 1992 Presidential General Election is the only Presidential election that represented a significant impact by a third party or an independent candidate.  The incumbent President was George H. W. Bush, running for his second term in office as a Republican Party candidate.  The challengers were the Democratic Party candidate, Bill Clinton, and independent candidate H. Ross Perot.

 

In the 1992 Presidential Election, Bill Clinton won that election with 43% of the vote, but with 370 electoral college votes (only need 270 electoral college votes to win).  The one-term incumbent George H. W. Bush received only 37% of the vote, along with only 168 electoral college votes.  H. Ross Perot received 19% of the vote, and no electoral votes.  The remaining 1% were various write-in candidates, etc. 

The impact that Mr. Perot had was that probably the great majority of his votes were from voters of the more conservative views that would have voted for the Republican candidate, if Mr. Perot had not been in the race.  That would have given the incumbent Republican President Bush a 55+% of the votes, and most likely enough electoral college votes to have won a second term.  Mr. Perot became the reason Mr. Bush did not serve a second Presidential term.

 

It is possible in the Electoral College to win the election with 270 or more Electoral College votes, yet not achieve a majority percent of the popular vote.

 

The Presidential election of 1860 pitted Abraham Lincoln, John C. Breckenridge John Bell and Stephen A. Douglas.  The issues surrounded those which led up to the War Between the States (known generally as the Civil War).  Lincoln won with 180 electoral votes, versus 72 electoral votes for Breckenridge, 39 electoral votes for Bell and 12 electoral votes for Douglas.  However, Lincoln won only 39.8% of the popular vote, whereas Breckenridge won 18.1%, Bell won 12.6% and Douglas won 29.5%

 

 


 

4.           The Electoral College – What is it?

 

 

The Electoral College was formed out of the controversies involved in creating the Constitution of the United States.  On February 21, 1787, the Confederation Congress called a convention of state delegates at Philadelphia to propose a plan of government.  Up to that time, the national government had functioned with a document entitled the Articles of Confederation.  Its defects were what caused Congress to call for a new attempt in creating a workable governing plan.

 

The Great Compromise was what was called the final agreement to have the President elected by Electoral College delegates elected from the various states.  The plan centered around the number of office holders elected to the national legislative body, called the Congress. 

 

The Senate would have two Senators elected from each state.  The House of Representatives would be comprised of the number of Representatives determined by a formula of population size.  The more populous states had more members of the House of Representatives in Congress, whereas rural states had less.  For example, today, seven States have only one House member, yet each has two Senators. 

 

We have in the United States today (50) States.  There are 435 members of the House of Representatives.  Every 10 years, the Census is counted of the population of the United States.  When some states lose population and other states gain, then the 435 Congressional seats are redistributed.   The effect is that some States lose effective power in Congress and others gain more.

 

Currently, the six states with the most electors are California (55), Texas (38), New York (29), Florida (29), Illinois (20) and Pennsylvania (20). The seven smallest states by population – AlaskaDelawareMontanaNorth DakotaSouth DakotaVermont, and Wyoming– have three electors each. This is because each of these states is entitled to one representative and two senators.

 

Washington D.C. is a political jurisdiction, but it is not a State.  With a population existing in Washington D. C., the Constitution allows it to have what would be its proportional share of House members in Electoral votes, if it was a State, but may not have more than the least populous state(s).  Currently, that is 3 Electoral votes for Washington D.C. voters.  The Constitution allows no Senators for Washington D.C.

 

The Electoral College is composed of the following:

 

                  Members of the House of Congress:  435

                  Members of the Senate of Congress:   100

                  House Members from D.C.:                   3

 

                  Total Electoral College Votes            538

 

Needed to win 50%+ of the vote requires at least 270 Electoral Votes.

 

In the 2016 Presidential General Election, Donald John Trump won 304 Electoral votes, versus 227 Electoral votes by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Trump won 45.9% of the popular vote, whereas Clinton won 48.0 % of the vote.  The other 9 Electoral votes were won by miscellaneous or third party candidates, Colin Powell 3, John Kasich 1, Ron Paul 1, Bernie Sanders 1, Faith Spotted Eagle 1. 

 

 

 

 

 


 

5. The Political Parties in Texas

 

The Democratic Party of Texas functions for its party’s activities throughout the State of Texas and it sends delegates to the Democratic Party’s National Conventions every four years.  This website gives particulars for the Democrats working in Texas, including the party leadership.

 

The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) works as well within the borders of the State of Texas.  This website gives about the Texas activities of Republicans, including its party leadership.

 

We in Wise County reside in Texas Senate District #30.  It is a 14-county district located in mid-North Texas.  The RPT is managed by the State Executive Committee (SEC).  There is one elected Committeeman and one elected Committeewoman for each of the 31 Senatorial Districts in Texas.  Each of these districts has an average of about 900,000 people in their populations. SEC members are elected to two-year terms each time the RPT holds its biennial State Convention. 

 

 

 

Each of the 254 counties in Texas have a Chairman of the Republican Party and a Chairman of the Democratic Party, who is elected by the people voting in the March Republican Party Primary Election, which occurs on the first Tuesday in March of the even numbered years. 

 

 

 

6.                 When are candidates determined?

 

When do the Political Parties determine WHO will be their candidates in the November General Election?

 

Each state has laws that describe when the political parties conduct what is called a Party Primary Election.  When Party Primary Elections occur varies from state to state, but the times range in the United States from February to May in the years that a General Election is scheduled for November.  In Texas, the law specifies our Party Primary Election to be on the first Tuesday in March of the even-numbered years.

 

Primary Elections for both the Democratic and the Republican Parties occur on the same date, and both parties use the same physical voting booth locations. 

 

Some states require voter registration that indicates in advance the political party with which you identify.  Your registered voter card would allow you to vote only in the Party Primary Election of your Party shown on that card.  In Texas, it is one of the states that does not require Party registration.  You simply register as a voter, with a voter identification card that make no Party reference.  When you come to the voting poll for a Party Primary Election, after you qualify yourself to the Election Judge as a legally registered voter, all you need to do is say which Party Primary Ballot you wish to be issued on which you will vote. 

 

That means any registered voter for change their mind on Party inclination anytime up to when they vote.  However, when you do vote, you can vote only in ONE of the Party Primaries.  In a Party Primary Election, you cannot vote for some candidate races on one Party’s ballot and for some candidate races on the other Party’s ballot.

 

For each office on which voting will take place, as many candidates as want to may qualify and run for election on a Party Primary Election Ballot.  If only one candidate files for the Party Primary Election Ballot, that candidate automatically is on the Party’s General Election Ballot in November.  If more than one candidate files for an office, any candidate who received more than 50% of the vote becomes the Party’s candidate in the November General Election.  If three or more candidates run, and none receives 50% or more of the votes, then a runoff election is scheduled for about a month later.  The runoff election has only the two candidates from the Primary Election who received the most votes.  The winner of the runoff election represents the Party in the November General Election. 

 

 

7.  What and When are Party Conventions?

 

The Political Parties hold Precinct Conventions at the end of the day on Primary Election Days.  Generally, these are held in the same general physical location as the voting poll was that day.  Each Party usually is in a separate room.  The purpose of the Precinct Convention is to elect the qualified number of Delegates and Alternate Delegates to attend the Party’s County Convention, which is about a month later.  The purpose also can entertain proposed Resolutions to be sent to the County Convention for consideration.  A Resolution relates to advocating any proposed change in law, party rules or causes to advocate in the Party Platform. 

 

The County Convention in Texas meets on the third Saturday following the Primary Election.   If that is a Passover or Good Friday weekend, it’s held the following Saturday.  If more than portions of two state Senatorial Districts are within a County, then Senatorial Conventions are held instead.  That Convention will elect Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Party’s State Convention.  It also considers any Resolutions from the Precinct Conventions or generated by Delegates at this Convention. 

 

The State Convention in Texas is held the second Saturday in June of the even numbered years.  It elects Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the National Convention in the years of Presidential elections, years that have a February 29th). 

 

It considers Resolutions and Party Platforms to recommend to the National Convention, or for the Texas Platform.  In Presidential election years, it votes for the Party’s Presidential candidate that the Delegates cast votes to give at least 50%+ votes.  It also elects those people who will serve as Electors for the State in the Presidential voting by the Election College. 

 

At each State Convention, the officers for the Party to lead over the next two years are elected:  State Chairman, State Vice chairman, and the 62 members to serve as the State Executive Committee.  There are one committeeman and one committeewoman elected from each of the 31 senatorial state districts in Texas.  They are elected at the State Conventions in the Senatorial Caucus meetings. 

 

The State Convention elects Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the party’s National Convention that year.  This is done when the Convention participants are assembled in what is called Congressional Caucuses.  There are 36 Congressional Districts in Texas. 

 

The National Convention nominates it President and Vice President candidates to be on the General Election Ballot in November.  It also refines and determines what will be the Party Platform.  The Party Platform state what are the issues or political views that the party advocates to the general voting public as being what the candidates of that party are expected to accomplish. 

 

 

 


 

8.   Who Can Vote?

 

 

Any citizen of the United States may register to vote through the County Government Office of the county in which he or she lives.  It must be where you live and not, for example, where you are employed.  You might live in Wise County, but your job is in Denton County.  You are to be only a Wise County voter. 

 

That means you may file as a candidate for election to a county office only in your county of residence where you are a registered voter. 

 

In the beginning years of the government of the United States, only males were registered to vote.  On May 21, 1919, U.S. Representative James R. Mann (1856-1922), a Republican from Illinois and chairman of the House of Representatives Suffrage Committee, proposed the House resolution to approve the Susan Anthony Amendment granting women the right to vote. The measure passed the House 304-89—a full 42 votes above the required two-thirds majority.

 

On June 19, 1919, the whole Congress of the United States, including the Senate, passed the proposal of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution which would allow women to register to vote.  Such proposal required the concurrence of the majority members in state legislatures of at least 2/3’s of the states.  The deciding vote came with the State of Tennessee Legislature approval, made by a 1 count deciding vote cast by 23-year old Representative Harry T. Burn, a Republican from McMinn County. 

 

Wyoming became the first state to grant voting rights to women.  It also was the first state to elect a female governor, Nellie Taylor Ross (1876 – 1977) in 1924.  This is a reason the state nickname for Wyoming is the “Equality State.”  Gov. Ross subsequently served as the first female Director of the United States Mint, 1933 – 1953. 

 

 

 

 


 

Conclusion

 

I trust this document has been instructive and helpful to your understanding of our political processes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

 

D. A. Sharpe

805 Derting Road East

Aurora (Wise County), TX  76078-3712

 

 

 

817-504-6508                Cell

da@dasharpe.com          e-mail address

www.dasharpe.com        website address