By Kimber Weippert
Getting Back to Basics: Understanding the Levels and Functions of Federal Government in the US and Why Understanding Government is Important
First, we must understand that the federal government is split into 3 separate branches: the executive branch, legislative branch, judicial branch. The roles of these branches are all very important and form a system of checks and balances. This is so that all the power of government is not located in just one area.
The executive branch is headed by the President who is the head of state, head of government, and Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The president’s responsibilities include implementing and enforcing laws and appointing heads of federal agencies and cabinet members. There are three requirements in order to become the president of the United States of America: the candidate must be 35 years of age, a natural born citizen, and resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.
The legislative branch gives lawmaking power to congress. Congress is divided into two groups: the Senate and the House of Representatives. In total there are 100 members in the senate, 2 members per state, and there are 435 members in the House of Representatives, and these members are divided between all 50 states dependent on the population of each state. Congress deals with financial and budgetary responsibilities, as well as setting tax, and of course a large function of Congress is lawmaking.
Lastly there is the judicial branch, which is split into different courts: for the federal level this is the supreme court. Cases that make it to the supreme court usually start at the local level and progress to supreme court depending on the seriousness of the issue at hand. Members of the supreme court are appointed by the president, and when appointed, they are appointed for life. A member of the supreme court will serve a term until they either die, resign, or are convicted. Among the many responsibilities of a supreme court justice are the following: reviewing important laws, hearing cases, and protecting rights of the people based on the constitution.
You may be thinking, “Okay, now I understand the basics of federal government, but why is this information important to me?” Let me start by telling you about my experience as an individual at Edge High School and how I became involved in public policy.
When I first started interning at Edge High School, I had no idea what political issues were surrounding education between charter schools (non-traditional schools) and “public” schools (traditional schools). In recent years charter schools have received a bad reputation in the state of Arizona because of scandals released in the news. This has caused a large amount of scrutiny, overview, and negativity to surround charter schools in the area, and more importantly it has impacted the laws that are being implemented on charter schools and the unique ways in which these schools operate. This legislative season I want to help in any way that I could. I informed myself about the situation, researching and understanding the differences between traditional and non-traditional school. I then researched the state legislature, understanding the individual values and principles of the senate and representative members within Edge High School’s legislative district. When the time came, I visited the capitol with my supervisor and the school’s Principal, and we met with legislature members and informed them of the important and valuable things that Edge does for its students and its community. After meeting with the legislators within my district, I then contacted each of them via email and invited them to visit Edge so that they could have a more personal experience with our school. No, I didn’t change the world overnight, but I believe that the small things I have accomplished achieved a smaller piece of what is the larger goal, and you can too. Not sure how to get involved with the issues that interest you? Here are some steps you can take:
- Educate yourself: Read this article, learn about federal government, and also state and local governments. Learn about the issues within this country and within your state, and within your community. Learn things about your legislatures, like what issues they are for and against, and who they are as a person. Tired of social media, watch the local news or open that old newpaper on your driveway. Knowledge give a person the power to speak about the issues they are passionate about, so go educate yourself.
- Get involved: Find a group of people who have similar interests, beliefs, and concerns as you. Go to events in your community or within your state whether it be a public forum, or a rally. Contact your legislatures! Trust me they are normal people like you and me, and they are willing to hear what you have to say. Send them and email and have your (respectful) voice be heard.
- Vote: If you are not satisfied with the changes being made, or the lack of changes being made, vote for a candidate that also supports your concerns and issues.
You are one person, and you matter. You and the actions that you take are not too small to make a difference!