Relationship Between Arizona's State & Local Governments

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

Arizona is a major state in the American Southwest, and today we are are going to look at how the state is governed, as well as the relationship between governments within it.


Pennies. When you think of Arizona, an American state in the Southwest, think about pennies. Arizona produces more copper than all of the other American states combined, which leads to a lot of pennies. Arizona loves copper so much that the roof of its state capitol building is covered in roughly 4.8 million pennies worth of it. This hot, dry state was also the last of the contiguous United States to join the union, and therefore has one of the youngest state constitutions. That constitution delineates government power throughout the state, making sure that Arizona (and all of its copper) works as efficiently as possible. Let's take the one-cent tour of Arizona's government, and see how the state mints its political administration.

State Government

Let's start at the top. Arizona's state government, just like the federal government of the United States, divides power between three branches. The executive branch is in charge of daily administration of Arizona, as well as implementing state laws and policies. At the top of this branch is the governor, who is elected for a four-year term. The governor is sort of like the president of the state. While most states also elect a lieutenant governor (the vice president of the state), Arizona does not. The second-highest executive official is therefore the Secretary of State, who takes over if something happens to the governor.

The second branch of Arizona's state government is the legislative, which would be the equivalent of the United States Congress. Arizona's is called the Arizona Legislature, and it's divided into a Senate and a House of Representatives. The legislature passes state laws. Finally, the third branch is the judicial, which is in charge of interpreting both the state laws and the state constitution. This branch is led by the Arizona Supreme Court, the highest appellate court in the state.

Local Governments

Arizona has a long tradition of local government. There are several forms of local government in Arizona, each of which is officially created by the state government. This means that the local governments are under the authority of the state government and only have the authority granted to them by the state. The local governments with the most autonomy are those with a degree of home rule (the right to self-govern). This is achieved by creating a charter for that government, sort of like a constitution, that is approved by the state. While there are no counties with home rule, 20 major cities have achieved this status.

County Governments

The highest form of local government in Arizona is the county government. Since Arizona was very rural and sparsely populated when it first became a state, most local government originally occurred at a county level. The state has many major cities now, but county government is still important.

The 15 counties of Arizona are based on a similar structure. Each county is governed by a board of supervisors, as well as separately elected offices like sheriff, superintendent of schools, county attorney, and treasurer. In this commission style of administration, no single person holds a powerful leadership role; there is no equivalent to the governor at this level. This means that each county official essentially runs their own department without supervision. This has been criticized recently because county government matters tend to unfold slowly without a strong leader, and because county officials operate without regard to each other's needs or budgets.

Municipal Governments

Within the counties, each city and town has its own municipal government. Towns and cities in Arizona are formally called municipal corporations, because they are run like a business. This means that instead of a mayor, most power is held by a city council. This council has the power to hire a city manager, who is in charge of daily administration. This system is adopted from the structure of major corporations, run by a board of directors and a CEO. Many municipalities do have a mayor, but this is largely a ceremonial title. The city council holds the real power.

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