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6: The Structure of Massachusetts State and Local Government

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    Snapshot of Topic 6

    Supporting Question

    What is the role of state and local government in the U.S. political system?

    Topic 6 explores the roles of state and local government in Massachusetts and around the nation.

    State government refers to the institutions that provide government for an entire state - its governor, legislature, and state's court system. There are a total of 7,383 state legislative seats in the country, and the Republican and Democratic Parties are engaged in an intense competition to control those decision-making bodies. One party or the other controls every state legislature except one - Minnesota - for the first time since 1914 (All or Nothing: How State Politics Became a Winner-Take-All World, Governing, January 2019).

    Local government refers to the people that run cities and towns, including mayors, select boards, city councils and town meetings.

    Massachusetts is considered a commonwealth because it appeared in the state's constitution in 1780 (the states of Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia are also commonwealths). Being a commonwealth does not define any superior status to other states that are not a commonwealth, but when originally used it simply meant to describe a state of people. "Commonwealth" was coined to describe dependencies of the British Empire, with the monarch seen as the head of the commonwealth. As with the term "commonwealth," many counties and towns of Massachusetts are directly referenced from England, of which the most obvious larger example is "New England."

    While Topic 6 has information specific to Massachusetts (such as the Massachusetts Constitution and the leadership structure of the state's government), most of the following standards focus on the functioning of state and local governments throughout the U.S. political system. Our modules explore interactions between federal, state and local government in the context of the challenges brought on by the digital revolution, the Trump presidency, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

    • 6.1: Functions of State and National Government
      The constitutional separation of powers between the state and federal governments, and the tensions this can cause using the examples of agreeing on time and responding to disasters. Native American tribal governments sovereign from control by the federal government. At the state level, whether part-time citizen legislatures can more effectively represent the people than a full-time legislature.
    • 6.2: Distribution of Powers in the United States and Massachusetts Constitutions
      Constitutional enumerations of and restrictions on state and federal government powers. The abolition of slavery in Massachusetts, led by the court case where Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett) won her freedom using language from the Massachusetts state constitution. The question of whether the government should pay African Americans reparations for the centuries of slavery and racial oppression they have faced.
    • 6.3: Enumerated and Implied Powers
      The difference between enumerated and implied powers, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. The history of U.S. minimum wage laws, as an example of the federal government's use of implied powers. The question of whether the country should adopt a living wage rather than a minimum wage.
    • 6.4: The Protection of Individual Rights
      The importance of guarantees of individual rights in America, as demonstrated by the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment, and Article I of the Massachusetts Constitution; marriage equality court cases; and small claims courts.
    • 6.5: The Tenth Amendment
      The role of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, and its impact in creating controversy over state and federal regulations regarding COVID-19 and sports betting.
    • 6.6: Additional Protections Provided by the Massachusetts State Constitution
      The differences between the Massachusetts and federal Constitutions, including additional protections provided by the state constitution. Ongoing efforts to combat gendered and racist language in state and local constitutions and laws. Whether public schools should include an LGBTQIA-inclusive curriculum as part of the equal protection of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
    • 6.7: Responsibilities of Government at Federal, State, and Local Levels
      The responsibilities of state and local governments, and current and historical conflicts between different levels of government over issues of public health. The roles that local governments can and should play in reducing plastic waste and pollution.
    • 6.8: Leadership Structure of Massachusetts Government
      The structure and branches of the Massachusetts state government, and milestones in Massachusetts government. Steps that state government can take to eliminate gender gaps in wages and jobs.
    • 6.9: Tax-Supported Facilities and Services
      The taxes that Americans pay and how they are applied to public education. Overview of the history of U.S. taxation, including progressive and regressive taxation. State lotteries as a way of raising money for communities, and controversies over this policy.
    • 6.10: Major Components of Local Government
      Some components of local government, including town meetings as a form of direct democracy and elections of school boards. Democratic decision-making in cooperative organizations and worker-owned businesses. Local governments declaring their communities to be safe or sanctuary communities.

    Thumbnail: Map of Massachusetts Counties

    This page titled 6: The Structure of Massachusetts State and Local Government is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Robert W. Maloy & Torrey Trust (EdTech Books) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.