Minnesota Government: State, Local & Tribal

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Minnesota, like all US states, maintains its own governments. In this lesson, we're going to check out the state, local, and tribal governments of Minnesota and see how they interact.

Government in Minnesota

There are a few things Minnesotans are famous for across the United States. For one, they really like their football team. Two, they apparently have a thing for really big malls, and three, they've got one of America's favorite local accents (dontcha know). But, maybe we should add a fourth item to the list. Minnesota has one of the most democratically-active populations of any US state with some of the highest voter turnout rates in the country. In nearly every election and at nearly every level, Minnesotans flock to the polls when it's time to vote. So, maybe we should get to know Minnesota's government a little bit better. Oh sure, you betcha.


State Government

As with all American states, Minnesota is operated by a combination of state and local governments. Let's start at the state level. The Minnesota state government is divided, just like the federal government, into three branches. This creates a system of checks and balances that prevents any single person or group from monopolizing power.

Seal of the State of Minnesota

The legislative branch contains the Minnesota Legislature, which makes state laws. Since the US Constitution grants states the right to pass any laws not expressly laid out in that document, state legislatures have a lot of power over the daily lives of their citizens. Like the US Congress, Minnesota's legislature is bicameral, composed of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

The executive branch of Minnesota is led by the Governor, who is elected by the people to a four-year term. The governor is sort of like the president of the state and is in charge of the daily administration of Minnesota and its laws. This is a big job, and as a result, most of Minnesota's bureaucracy is under the authority of the executive branch.

Finally, we've got the judiciary. Minnesota's court systems are championed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which is the state's highest court of appeals. To get to this level, a case must first be tried at the district level and the lower court of appeals. The Supreme Court is in charge of interpreting the law and the state constitution.

Local Government

The state government sets laws and policies for all of the people of Minnesota, but many daily issues are only relevant at a local level. For that reason, the state constitution gave the Legislature the power to create local governments. These local governments technically fall under the authority of the Legislature but have the power to make decisions about their own communities.

There are a few major types of local governments. The largest is the government for a city. Cities are, under Minnesota law, treated as public corporations. There are about 853 cities in Minnesota, containing over 80% of the state's population. They are ranked by population, with a First-Class city having the most residents and a Fourth-Class city having the least. While all cities may elect a state government to create city codes, some cities have earned the right to draft their own charter, which is essentially a constitution for that city.

Rural areas in Minnesota may be organized into a different system of local governance called a township. Towns are not just small cities; they are different systems of administrative units, led by supervisors who oversee land management for that area. The logic behind this is that urban areas, cities, will have different needs in terms of services and administration, and therefore should have different systems of local government.

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