Principles, organization, and operation of American state and local government.
State and local government is the government that is 'closest' to us and the government which most Americans encounter most often, yet the operations of this 'closer' set of governments are often obscure to citizens. Why is there such inattention to and confusion about state and local government? Many people think of state and local government as the federal government in miniature. That is, state legislatures are like Congress (only smaller), governors are like the President on a smaller scale, etc. Another (erroneous) view is that state politics and policies are only reflections of what goes on in Washington, DC. That view has it that the ‘really important’ decisions are made in Washington, while the states are mere channels of federal politics and conduits for federal policies, the state political parties are mere franchises of a ‘top-down’ national party system, and so forth.
There is certainly a lot of evidence to support the view that federalism constrains the states. But this course will suggest that the ‘constraints’ often go the other way, too--that Washington is animated by factors, people, issues, and solutions that originate in the states. In other overlapping areas, states and localities show themselves to be true laboratories of American government, incubating solutions in front of the national government. And in some areas, the states and localities have their own autonomous spheres of actions.
The value of this course will be in factual knowledge related to the workings of state and local institutions and in the added perspective of the origins and functions they serve. In this course, you will come to appreciate that states and local governments have institutions that are distinctive to themselves, and that superficial similarities to the national government hide a deeper, more complex and more interesting reality. It would be fair to say that this course tilts in the direction of understanding the distinctiveness of state government and political institutions from the federal government and from each other.
As your instructor, I endeavor to follow a pattern and rhythm for every week. Assignment-wise, each week will have:
• “Weekly Objectives”
• Reading assignments from the Smith text and downloadable supplements
• Two to three “Lecture/Guides”: downloadable narratives amplifying major themes of the Smith chapters
• One or two streaming videos. Most weeks these will be short (10-20 minute clips), the longer ones with accompanying 'Watching Guides'
• Some ‘Vignettes’--videos that present lecture slides with my voiceover explanations; these deal with specific events or issues that complement the readings, Lecture/Guides.
Occasionally, I will depart from the ‘average’ pattern. Some weeks I will have more than three lecture guides. Other weeks I will have a longer documentary video (an hour or more). I’ll not load you up with excessive assignments on any week.
Assignments and Exams. Last year, several students suggested that I change the exam format from a midterm and final exam only to a four-exam format. I was convinced that this was a good idea, because it reduced the weight of any one exam and gave students a more limited group of topics to study for each exam. Your final course grade will be determined as follows: graded participation in 6 discussion topic/threads will constitute 20% of your final grade; 2 graded papers (each 3-4 pp.--format, etc. to be announced) will make up 25% of your grade; and 4 multiple-choice exams (final exam included and equally weighted) will determine 55% of your final course grade.
This course meets the All-University Core Curriculum (AUCC) requirements for Social/Behavioral Sciences (Category 3C) and is approved under gtPathways in the content area of Economic or Political Systems (GT-SS1).
This course can be applied towards: