Candidates and Elected Officials

Many of us have heard the term “All politics is local.” The Recovery Advocacy Project couldn’t agree more. Many decisions are made by local public officials and affect our daily lives as a recovery community. It is important for us to understand the connection of our local elections with our federal elections.

Part of being an organized voting block as a recovery community begins with knowing who is making decisions for us in addition to those running for office. 

You can go here, click on your state, and research who is already elected, as well as those currently running for office along with their campaign websites (if available). 

For a comprehensive list of all of your current elected officials from the local to federal level go here.

It is helpful to establish working relationships with local public officials like sheriffs, mayors, and city councils, and understand their roles impact issues that effect communities of recovery. Here is an example from When We All Vote which illustrates how different offices, which may be on your local ballot, can influence criminal justice.

How your vote connects to criminal justice When We All Vote

Learn more about different offices

The President is both the head of state and head of government of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Under Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress. Fifteen executive departments — each led by an appointed member of the President’s Cabinet — carry out the day-to-day administration of the federal government. They are joined in this by other executive agencies such as the CIA and Environmental Protection Agency, the heads of which are not part of the Cabinet, but who are under the full authority of the President.

The President also appoints the heads of more than 50 independent federal commissions, such as the Federal Reserve Board or the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as federal judges, ambassadors, and other federal offices. The Executive Office of the President (EOP) consists of the immediate staff to the President, along with entities such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

The President has the power either to sign legislation into law or to veto bills enacted by Congress, although Congress may override a veto with a two-thirds vote of both houses. The Executive Branch conducts diplomacy with other nations, and the President has the power to negotiate and sign treaties, which also must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. The President can issue executive orders, which direct executive officers or clarify and further existing laws. The President also has unlimited power to extend pardons and clemencies for federal crimes, except in cases of impeachment.



Your U.S. Representative represents you and your neighbors in the U.S. House of Representatives which is part of the legislative branch of our Federal government. Our congress introduces bills to become law.

Also referred to as a congressman or congresswoman, each representative is elected to a two-year term serving the people of a specific congressional district. Among other duties, representatives introduce bills and resolutions, offer amendments and serve on committees.

The number of representatives with full voting rights is 435, a number set by Public Law 62-5 on August 8, 1911, and in effect since 1913. The number of representatives per state is proportionate to population.



Our U.S. Senators, like U.S. Representatives, represent the interests of our state in the legislative branch of the Federal government. Senators represent a larger number of constituents and work in the U.S. Senate to introduce bills to become law.

The Constitution prescribes that the Senate be composed of two senators from each State (therefore, the Senate currently has 100 Members) and that a senator must be at least thirty years of age, have been a citizen of the United States for nine years, and, when elected, be a resident of the State from which he or she is chosen. A senator’s term of office is six years and approximately one-third of the total membership of the Senate is elected every two years.



Our governors are the head of our State’s executive branch. Like the president, they have the power to sign bills into law or veto bills in their state, make appointments, and enforce laws.

As state managers, governors are responsible for implementing state laws and overseeing the operation of the state executive branch. As state leaders, governors advance and pursue new and revised policies and programs using a variety of tools, among them executive orders, executive budgets, and legislative proposals and vetoes.

Governors carry out their management and leadership responsibilities and objectives with the support and assistance of department and agency heads, many of whom they are empowered to appoint. A majority of governors have the authority to appoint state court judges as well, in most cases from a list of names submitted by a nominations committee.

Although governors have many roles and responsibilities in common, the scope of gubernatorial power varies from state to state in accordance with state constitutions, legislation, and tradition, and governors often are ranked by political historians and other observers of state politics according to the number and extent of their powers.


Source: National Governors Association

In the United States, the office of lieutenant governor is the second-highest executive office in a state and is nominally subordinate to the governor. In the U.S., the main duty of the lieutenant governor is to act as governor should the governor be temporarily absent from the office. In addition, the lieutenant governor generally succeeds a governor who dies, resigns or is removed in trial by the legislative branch. In most states, the lieutenant governor then becomes governor, with the title and its associated salary, office, and privileges. In a few states, like Massachusetts, the lieutenant governor instead becomes “acting governor” until the next election.

Other than this primary constitutional duty, most state constitutions do not prescribe the duties of the lieutenant governor in detail.


Source: Ballotpedia

The secretary of state is a state-level position in 47 of the 50 states. The position does not exist in Alaska, Hawaii and Utah. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the office is called the secretary of the commonwealth and differs only in name. The voters directly elect the secretary of state in 35 states. In the other 12, the secretary is appointed by either the governor or the state legislature.

The duties of the position are generally administrative in nature, and no two states have identical responsibilities delegated to the secretary of state. Many are tasked with keeping state records, from registering businesses to recording the official acts of the governor. The officeholder also often serves as the chief election official in their state, administering state elections and maintaining official election results. The commissioning and regulation of notaries public, keeping of the official state seal and certification of official documents all typically fall under the purview of the secretary of state.


Source: Ballotpedia

The attorney general is an executive office in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., that serves as the chief legal advisor and chief law enforcement officer for the state government and is empowered to prosecute violations of state law, represent the state in legal disputes and issue legal advice to state agencies and the legislature. In most states, the attorney general has a substantial influence on a state’s approach to law enforcement. Attorneys general often set particular law enforcement priorities (e.g. drug law, civil rights violations or sexual crime) and focus extra resources on these issues. This puts them, in the words of the National Association of Attorneys General, at the “intersection of law and public policy.”


Source: Ballotpedia

State Senators provide representation to their constituents by serving on committees, introducing and voting on laws, and serving other special functions in your state’s legislative branch.

Similar to U.S. Senators, your state senators represent a larger area, or district, of constituents than their counterparts in your state house of representatives.

State representatives, also called assembly members, serve their constituents in your state’s legislative branch. Like U.S. Representatives, they represent their constituents, draft legislation, and sit on committees.

The role of a mayor is to provide leadership and often times executive function at the city level. They usually work with a group of elected officials at the city level, known as a city council. Council members, depending on the authority given by your state’s constitution, can propose policy changes at the city level, like city ordinances. Mayors work to implement these policies.

Cities in the United States are sometimes characterized as having either “strong” or “weak” mayors. The term is not a judgement of effectiveness, rather it distinguishes the level of political power and administrative authority assigned to the mayor in the municipal charter. In practice, there is no sharp category that distinguishes between “weak” and “strong” mayors, but rather a continuum of authority and power along which cities are spread. However, the designation of “weak” and “strong” are useful in showing the variations in mayoral authority that exist.  

Most “strong” mayors are in the mayor-council form of government, and are directly elected by citizens to that office. Most “weak” mayors are mayors in a council-manager form, and are elected from within the city council.  

Characteristics of a “strong” mayor:

  • The mayor is the chief executive officer, centralizing executive power.
  • The mayor directs the administrative structure, appointing and removing of department heads.
  • While the council has legislative power, the mayor has veto power.
  • The council does not oversee daily operations. 

Characteristics of a “weak” mayor:

  • The council is powerful, with both legislative and executive authority.
  • The mayor is not truly the chief executive, with limited power or no veto power.
  • The council can prevent the mayor from effectively supervising city administration.
  • There may be many administrative boards and commissions that operate independently from the city government.  


Source: National League of Cities

With the great variation from state to state, there are multiple terms used to identify persons elected to municipal office. The chief-elected official is commonly called the mayor. The mayor may be elected directly or appointed by an elected council, depending on the city’s form of government and authority given to the mayor. The city council is an elected body of legislators who govern the municipality.

Depending upon state law and the municipal government charter, there are often other elected positions, including those such as the city clerk, city attorney, or city treasurer. Although voters in the majority of cities (76 percent) elect the mayor or council president directly, there is variation by population, geographic division, and form of government.

City councils are the legislators of a municipality who are democratically elected to decide which services will be provided and how to pay for them, among many other tasks.

Other Names:

The title for the members of city councils vary, and several titles exist according to local custom. These titles are: councilmember, alderman, selectman, freeholder, trustee or commissioner.

Council Function:

As local legislators, councilmembers are responsible for and responsive to the citizens who elected them. Depending on the city’s charter and state laws, they may perform the following functions:

  • Review and approve the annual budget;
  • Establish long- and short-term objectives and priorities;
  • Oversee performance of the local public employees;
  • Oversee effectiveness of programs;
  • Establish tax rates;
  • Enter into legal contracts;
  • Borrow funds;
  • Pass ordinances and resolutions;
  • Modify the city’s charter;
  • Regulate land use through zoning laws;
  • Regulate business activity through licensing and regulations;
  • Regulate public health and safety;
  • Exercise the power of eminent domain;
  • Communicate policies and programs to residents;
  • Respond to constituent needs and complaints; and
  • Represent the community to other levels of government.


Source: National League of Cities


A sheriff is responsible for law enforcement on the county level. The sheriff’s deputies carry out most of the law enforcement duties while the sheriff, usually an elected official, manages their activities. Read on to find out about a sheriff’s duties and job description.

The sheriff is usually an elected position, serving for a set term (often 4 years). A sheriff is responsible for law enforcement on a county level, ensuring that all local, state, and federal laws are followed. He or she performs a role similar to that of a police chief in a municipal department, managing a department in charge of protecting people and property and maintaining order. The sheriff usually has jurisdiction over any unincorporated areas of his or her county, while a police chief is in charge of areas within town or city limits.

A sheriff manages his or her deputies, who are usually uniformed officers who patrol and maintain order in the community. The sheriff monitors and directs deputies as they perform the following duties:

  • Investigating complaints
  • Emergency response
  • Patrolling
  • Monitoring traffic safety
  • Resolving disputes
  • Arresting suspects
  • Criminal investigation
  • Executing warrants

The sheriff is also responsible for managerial and clerical office duties, which may include filling out paperwork on warrants and complaints, reviewing patrol logs, overseeing hiring and training of deputies, managing the county jail, and writing and distributing the budget. The sheriff also may be responsible for, or at least take part in, public forums on policing matters, as well as community outreach programs.



The Constitution and laws of each state establish the state courts. A court of last resort, often known as a Supreme Court, is usually the highest court. Some states also have an intermediate Court of Appeals.

States also usually have courts that handle specific legal matters, e.g., probate court (wills and estates); juvenile court; family court; etc.

State court judges are selected in a variety of ways, including

  • election,
  • appointment for a given number of years,
  • appointment for life, and
  • combinations of these methods, e.g., appointment followed by election.

In other words, methods of judicial selection vary substantially across the United States. Though each state has a unique set of guidelines governing how they fill their state and local judiciaries, there are five main methods:

  • Partisan elections: Judges are elected by the people, and candidates are listed on the ballot alongside a label designating political party affiliation.
  • Nonpartisan elections: Judges are elected by the people, and candidates are listed on the ballot without a label designating party affiliation.
  • Legislative elections: Judges are selected by the state legislature.
  • Gubernatorial appointment: Judges are appointed by the governor. In some cases, approval from the legislative body is required.
  • Assisted appointment, also known as merit selection or the Missouri Plan: A nominating commission reviews the qualifications of judicial candidates and submits a list of names to the governor, who appoints a judge from the list. After serving an initial term, the judge must be confirmed by the people in a yes-no retention election to remain on the court.

State courts are the final arbiters of state laws and constitutions. Their interpretation of federal law or the U.S. Constitution may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may choose to hear or not to hear such cases.


Sources: Ballotpedia | United States Courts

A school board helps to determine educational policy and administrative procedures in a school district. It usually shares power with another institution, such as the local municipal government or the state and federal departments of education. In some cases, the title of the board is also used to refer to the school system under the board’s control. State departments of education often include a statewide school board responsible for the oversight of local school districts and school boards as well.

Members of a school board are most often elected by residents of the school district. However, they may also be appointed by mayors or other government officials such as governors or state superintendents.

Elections for school board members are held throughout the year, with a significant portion of them being concentrated in May and November. Candidates can either be elected at-large by all voters in the school district, or they may be elected by district. The geographic units within a school district for election purposes may be referred to as a district, place, ward or zone.

If a school board has appointed board members, the appointments are often made by the community’s mayor or by state executive officials, such as the state superintendent of education or the governor.

The sovereignty of school boards differs from district to district and state to state. Some school boards have the authority to set and levy tax rates; others may only have the authority to recommend such measures to a legislative body, government official or to the community in the form of a referendum. In some districts, especially smaller or more rural districts, school boards may be involved in all personnel decisions. School boards are most often only responsible for the appointment and dismissal of the district superintendent to whom they delegate the routine operations of the district.

In most districts, board members only hold “collective” authority when they meet and act as a board, not when they act as individuals. Many states publish guidelines for the conduct of board members. In some states, school boards have the power to invoke eminent domain to seize private property for school usage; however, such powers have also been challenged in the court system.


Source: Ballotpedia

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