Weird Federalism: The Country’s Biggest Political Outliers

America’s quirkiest state governments

October 2022

Script

It’s almost Election Day, and what you’ll vote on … depends a lot on where you live.

America’s system of federalism means that no two state governments look exactly alike.

In Arizona, citizens elect the state’s mine inspector.i In Texas, voters are asked to choose members of the state Railroad Commissionii — a body that has nothing to do with railroads.iii (The commission actually regulates the Lone Star State’s oil and gas industry.)

In North Dakota, voters are asked to select candidates for 12 statewide offices.iv In 6 other states, the governor is the only statewide official voters are allowed to choose.

Not all governors are created equal either.

While the other 48 states all give their governors four-year terms, New Hampshire and Vermont still require theirs to run for reelection every two years.v And in Virginia governors are not allowed to serve two terms in a row.

There are also big differences in state legislatures.

New Hampshire’s legislature is the nation's largest, with a whopping 424 members.vi The smallest legislature is in Nebraska, with only 49 members. And there’s a good reason for that.vii Nebraska only has one chamber: a state senate, but no state house.viii

There are also big differences in how much state legislators get paid.

In California, annual legislative salaries are nearly $115,000 — the highest in the nation.ix The lowest salaries are in New Mexico, where lawmakers make … nothing. (The state’s constitution prohibits legislative salaries.)x

Speaking of state constitutions, Vermont has the shortest, at just under 8,300 words.xi The longest belongs to Alabama, which, at 388,882 words, is longer than the New Testament and more than 50 times larger than the U.S. Constitution.xii

Most state constitutions protect similar rights as the federal one, with a few peculiar exceptions.

Georgia’s constitution contains a provision meant to ensure that bingo games can be held legally.xiii And Oregon is the only state whose constitution addresses the right to sell liquor by the glass.

We’ll have what Oregon’s having.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states that don’t elect governors to four-year terms.
  2. California has the highest-paid legislators, while lawmakers in New Mexico don’t receive a salary.
  3. Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature.

Sources

  1. Arizona Mine Inspector Citizens Clean Election Commission
  2. RRC Commissioners — Texas Railroad Commission
  3. About the Railroad Commission of TexasTexas Railroad Commission
  4. North Dakota State Executive Offices  Ballotpedia
  5. States With Gubernatorial Term Limits —  Ballotpedia
  6. State Government Overview, New Hampshire Almanac — New Hampshire Almanac
  7. Number of Legislators and Length of Terms in Years National Conference of State Legislatures
  8. Lesson 3: The Unicameral - The InstitutionNebraska Legislature
  9. 2021 Legislator Compensation National Conference of State Legislatures
  10. "Measure To Set Pay for Legislators Gets Past First Hurdle" (Daniel J. Chacón)Santa Fe New Mexican
  11. Vermont ConstitutionUS Legal
  12. "13 Things Shorter Than Alabama’s Constitution" (Leada Gore) — AL.com
  13. "Your State's Constitution - The People's Document" (Brenda Erickson) National Conference of State Legislatures

Shownotes

SOUND: Beekeper (Jesse Terry) 
FOOTAGE: Semyon Borisov (Unsplash) 

Sources

  1. Citizens Clean Election Commission
    Arizona Mine Inspector
  2. Texas Railroad Commission
    RRC Commissioners
  3. Texas Railroad Commission
    About the Railroad Commission of Texas
  4. Ballotpedia
    North Dakota State Executive Offices
  5. Ballotpedia
    States With Gubernatorial Term Limits
  6. New Hampshire Almanac
    State Government Overview, New Hampshire Almanac
  7. National Conference of State Legislatures
    Number of Legislators and Length of Terms in Years
  8. Nebraska Legislature
    Lesson 3: The Unicameral - The Institution
  9. National Conference of State Legislatures
    2021 Legislator Compensation
  10. Santa Fe New Mexican
    "Measure To Set Pay for Legislators Gets Past First Hurdle" (Daniel J. Chacón)
  11. US Legal
    Vermont Constitution
  12. AL.com
    "13 Things Shorter Than Alabama’s Constitution" (Leada Gore)
  13. National Conference of State Legislatures
    "Your State's Constitution - The People's Document" (Brenda Erickson)

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