Monday, June 13, 2011

Did you say bicameral?

This morning I drove on to Patton Campus to be greeted by Westmoreland Chapter who were preparing to visit the Capitol in Harrisburg as part of their My Government Day observance. "Dad" Bruce Neubauer, the Chapter Chairman, asked if I would talk to the young men and coach them on how to interact with the politicians they were about to meet. The Chapter was lucky enough to secure time with the State Senator from their home area. I asked the members if they understood what a Senator was. I was met with a blank, deer in headlights look. We then had a discussion with everyone about how government in Pennsylvania works and why it's important to them. As I sad down to write this post, I wondered out loud what I should write about. Matt Blaisdell, DSMC, who is sharing my office, responded "... how about My Government day?" Perfect! So, we're going to learn about PA government with today's post.

Pennsylvania is a Commonwealth, not a State. That history could fill an entire post by itself. However, for the moment, know that in PA they are equivalent. The Commonwealth is lead by the executive branch, consisting of Governor Tom Corbett, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley, Attorney General Linda Kelly, Auditor General Jack Wagner, and State Treasurer Robert McCord. These folks manage the government of the Commonwealth.

Now, like the federal government, we also have a bicameral (meaning two part) legislative branch. Known as the General Assembly, it includes 50 Senators and 203 Representatives. These are the men and women who create laws within Pennsylvania and modify existing laws on the books.

The job of interpreting those laws is left to the judiciary, which is composed of 60 judicial districts, most of which (except Philadelphia) have magisterial district judges (formerly called district justices and justices of the peace), who preside over preliminary hearings in felony and misdemeanor offenses, all minor (summary) criminal offenses, and small civil claims. Most criminal and civil cases originate in the Courts of Common Pleas, which also serve as appellate courts to the district judges. The Superior Court hears all appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas not expressly designated to the Commonwealth Court or Supreme Court.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the final appellate court. All judges in Pennsylvania are elected; the chief justice is determined by seniority.

I also asked the guys what the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. I got some varied answers, but again, that's a topic that is more than this blog post can handle. However, in the past decade, no political party has been clearly dominant in Pennsylvania. This, combined with Pennsylvania's rank of 6th in the country in population, has made it one of the most important swing states. Democrats are strong in Philadelphia County, Delaware County, Erie County, Allegheny County, Lehigh County, Northampton County, Luzerne County, and Lackawanna County (which, for those keeping track, are counties with large cities in them.) Republicans are strong in Lancaster County, York County, Franklin County, Westmoreland County, Butler County, Blair County, Lycoming County, and Cumberland County (which are more rural counties.) Swing counties in the state include Bucks County, Chester County, Berks County, Dauphin County, Cambria County, Beaver County, and Mercer Counties. In general, the Democrats are strongest in the large metro areas, particularly Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, and Allentown, while Republican support is widespread in rural areas in the central Allegheny Mountains and in the northern counties.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania is unique in the way it governs on a local level. Pennsylvania is divided into 67 counties. Counties are further subdivided into municipalities that are either incorporated as cities, boroughs, or townships. This where I have to give a shout out to my father, who has worked as the Manager of a municipality for the majority of his career. One county, Philadelphia County, is composed solely city of Philadelphia after it was consolidated in 1854. It is the only county like this.

There are a total of 56 cities in Pennsylvania, which are classified, by population, as either first, second, or third class cities. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's largest city, has a population of 1,547,297 and is the state's only first class city. Pittsburgh (311,647) and Scranton (71,944) are second class 'A' cities, respectively.

The rest of the cities, like the third and fourth largest—Allentown (107,815) and Erie (103,571)—to the smallest—Parker with a population of only 738—are third class cities. First and second class cities are governed by a "strong mayor" form of mayor–council government, whereas third class cities are governed by either a "weak mayor" form of government or a council–manager government.

Boroughs are generally smaller than cities, with most Pennsylvania cities having been incorporated as a borough before being incorporated as a city. There are 958 boroughs in Pennsylvania, all of which governed by the "weak mayor" form of mayor–council government.

Townships are the third type of municipality in Pennsylvania and are classified as either first class or second class townships. There are 1,454 second class townships and 93 first class townships. Second class township can become first class townships if it has a population density greater than 300 inhabitants per square mile. There is one exception to the types of municipalities in Pennsylvania: Bloomsburg was incorporated as a town in 1870 and is, officially, the only town in the state.

I hope you learned a little bit more about how your government works in PA. The next time you get to meet a State level political official, keep this mind. They'll be impressed with how much you know!

My special thanks to Wikipedia, which does a great job of explaining much of this! 

Frat! ~ "Dad" Seth Anthony

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