The State of Wisconsin has three branches of government. Simply stated, the Legislative branch enacts laws, the Executive branch implements and enforces those laws, and the Judicial branch enforces those laws or interprets them when there are disputes. The seat of state government is in the state capitol at Madison, but there are numerous offices of state government throughout the state.
The executive branch of Wisconsin government is led by a governor who has enormous veto power and is elected every four years. Wisconsin does not have term limits. The longest-serving Wisconsin governor was Tommy Thompson, who served an unprecedented four terms, first elected in 1986. In 2001, Thompson resigned the office to take an appointment from President George W. Bush as HHS Secretary.
The WBA Newsroom has special sections on the Legislative and Judicial branches, which address key processes and issues. In addition, an easy and fast way to find out how state government is structured and runs in Wisconsin is to get a copy of the Blue Book. It’s probably in your newsroom. If not, get a copy from any of your area’s state Assembly or Senate members. Call their office and have them send you one.
The Blue Book is updated every two years and is an invaluable reference tool for any reporter. It has just about everything you need to know about how our state government is structured, who the office-holders are, how we run elections, biographies of all the lawmakers and cabinet members, and just about anything you could want to know about Wisconsin government.
The non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau maintains an excellent website which essentially allows you online access to the Blue Book. It also has links to the very latest updates to the book, posted online. Familiarize yourself with the site and links, because the answers to many of your questions about state government can be found here.
There is another excellent site to help you understand the framework of Wisconsin government and how it is organized and other topics. Here, you will find both Adobe and Flash files of the biographies of state leaders, a link to our state’s actual constitution, files on the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of state government, and a file which is extremely useful called “Statistical Information” – where you can find a goldmine of information about the state and its people.
The UW Extension maintains a site which can quickly get you up-to-speed on local government as an online service of the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Local Government Center. Here you can find information about local government structure, laws, procedures, and links to names and e-mail addresses of UW Extension staff and educators who can help you with specific questions about local government.
There is another good source for information about state government. It’s a pamphlet put out by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and their website features information on how to get a copy for a small fee. Once you have a copy, you will find all the current updates on the website in an easy-to-read form.
You can follow politics of all sorts in the state at WisPolitics.com.