U.S. and California Government Basics

CA Capitol

Sometimes you have to start at the beginning. Most of us haven't actually read the U.S. or our state's constitution.  What about party platforms?  How do you find out what legislation is being debated in congress or the state legislature?  These links should give you a good starting place for getting back to the basics of how our system works.

(For specifics on 2012 initiatives, registering to vote, etc., see the PIE Voter Information page.)


U.S Constitution  This is an annotated version, which explains the meaning of some of the more arcane or confusing terms.  It isn't that long!  Read it!

CA Constitution  Much longer than the U.S. version, because it is so easy to amend -- even by voter initiative with a simple majority!

U.S. Institutions

President The official White House Website has lots of useful info, including pending legislation and speeches under "briefing room", and a link to produce your own taxpayer receipt under "issues".

Executive Branch (aside from POTUS) This links to each cabinet level  federal agency.

The American Presidency Project created by UC Santa Barbara faculty members, has data, speeches, documents,  and pretty much everything you need to know about the Presidency.

U.S Supreme Court The official SCOTUS site, which includes the docket of upcoming cases, opinions from former cases, bios of the justices, and more.

SCOTUS Blog  The best up-do-date information on what's going on NOW at the U.S. Supreme Court. Check out the "cases made simple" link at the top.

U.S. Congress

The House of Representatives The official House website has legislative committee links, a way to look up your Representative, and current legislation.

The U.S. Senate The official Senate site has a live webcast link, some history, schedules, and past legislation.

Thomas The searchable database maintained by the Library of Congress of all  federal legislation going back to the 1970's.

ADA Rankings This group provides a ranking of how liberal members of congress are. The higher the score, the more liberal (lower means more conservative). There is even a quiz for comparing yourself to members of congress.

ACU Rankings This group ranks members on a conservatism scale.  Higher numbers mean more conservative.

Issue Group Ratings These groups rank members on their issue areas.  So, if you agree with a group's goals, you want high ratings for your candidate.  If you don't love that group, members who represent issue positions you like will get low scores. A sampling is below:

National Rifle Association Grades members on gun rights records, even does lifetime scores. They make you register to get the data, but it's also at Project Vote Smart.

Human Rights Campaign This is a gay and lesbian rights organization, which ranks members on the percentage of the time the vote in favor of gay and lesbian rights.

League of Conservation Voters A pro-environmental group, which ranks on percentage of pro-environment votes.

Christian Coalition Conservative Christian organization, which ranks members on conservative Christian issues. They do make you register to get the info.  

California Institutions

Governor The Governor's webpage has great web design, but mostly just has press releases and the like.

CA Govt This site has links to all state agencies and is quite user friendly.

CA State Legislature Has links to legislation, members, etc. in both houses.

Legislative Analysts Office Non-partisan analysis of initiatives and budgets by policy experts.

CA Secretary of State Links to everything electorally related -- initiatives, voter turnout and registration, and campaign finance data.

California Supreme Court Cases, calendar, and opinions. 

Political Parties

The 2012 RNC and DNC Party Convention Speeches can be viewed at C-Span. There were some memorable ones!

Republican Party Platform The party platform tells you what positions the party has agreed on for this election. Read this if you want to understand what the party stands for this year.  

Democratic Party Platform The party positions for the Democratic Party this year. 

Differences between the two party platforms explained here.

Republican National Committee The national party's site. Links for volunteering, learning about the party, video streams, etc.

Democratic National Committee The national party's site. Links for volunteering, learning about the party, video streams, etc. 

California Democratic Party Site includes voter registration, volunteer info, the state party platform, etc.

California Republican Party Links to county GOP pages, volunteer information, news updates, etc.

The Pew Center gives the demographics of the political parties.  Which party is growing?  Which party do more Americans identify with? What are the patterns by age, race, income, education, gender, etc?