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 initiatives, registering to vote, etc., see the PIE Voter Information page.)


U.S ConstitutionThis 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.
  • 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:

Party Platforms 2016

The party platform tells you what positions the party has agreed on for this election. Read to understand party standings every election year. 

Party Platforms 2012

Differences between the two party platforms explained here

The RNC and the DNC

California Political Parties

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?