The 3 Branches of Washington State Government

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

The federal government can't run everything -- not in a country of 320 million people. Learn about the government of Washington State and its three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

Washington State Government

The United States covers 3.81 million square miles, and is home to around 320 million people. That's a lot of land and a lot of people to govern. For the federal government of the United States to deal with such a large area all on its own would be impractical. So not only is there the federal government, there is also state and local government.

Location of Washington state
Location of Washington state

Washington state is home to seven million people and has its own state government, elected by the population in much the same way as the federal government. In this lesson, we are going to take a closer look at the three branches that make up the Washington state government.

The Three Branches

Just like the federal government, the Washington state government has three branches. They even have the same names: the executive, legislative, and judicial. This is true in a lot of states because the system of state government mirrors that of the nation as a whole. The idea behind the system is that each branch provides a check for the others, avoiding concentrating too much power in any one place.

The Executive Branch

The executive branch of the state government includes a series of individually elected officials including the governor of Washington, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and the treasurer. Their job is to enforce state law and oversee the day-to-day running of the state government. Certain departments in the executive branch are governed by independent commissions; however, most are appointed by the governor, who is elected to four-year terms. The governor is the chief executive of the state and is particularly powerful because he has control of the state's military forces, the ability to issue pardons, and veto power.

A veto is the ability to reject a bill created by the legislature and stop it from becoming law. In the case of the governor of Washington, the veto has extra power because it's a line-item veto. This allows the governor to prevent individual parts of a bill from becoming law.

The Legislative Brach

The legislative branch of the state government also has a lot in common with the federal legislative branch: it includes a House of Representatives and a state Senate.

State Capitol building in Olympia - home of the House and Senate
State Capitol building in Olympia - home of the House and Senate

The job is the same as well: to write and pass laws which will apply to the state. The state, which is comprised of 49 districts, elects two representatives and one senator per district for a total of 49 senators and 98 representatives. Like the federal government, representatives serve two-year terms with no term limits. Senators, however, serve four-year terms with no term limits, instead of the six-years served by senators in the federal government.

The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch includes all non-federal courts in Washington state, including the Washington Supreme Court, the Washington Court of Appeals, and the Washington Superior Courts. The Washington Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and includes nine justices who are elected to six-year terms. Like the federal Supreme Court, they have the ability to interpret the law and to strike down laws that conflict with the state Constitution or with other existing laws. The Washington Court of Appeals also contains elected judges with six-year terms. These judges, who sit in panels of three, do not hear new cases, but rather review the evidence and arguments from a trial court case for appealable errors.

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