Our basic system of government is a Representative Democracy. As
a voter in such a system, your role is to choose through election the
people who will make decisions for you regarding the law. By electing
a Governor and Legislators, you are selecting the men and women who represent
you and make decisions about many issues that will affect your everyday
The Legislative Branch: Make Law
Since 1860, all lawmaking power was assigned to the Oregon Legislative
Assembly. This changed in 1902 with the adoption of the Initiative and
Referendum amendment that gives voters the opportunity to share in lawmaking.
The Initiative and Referendum amendment allows people to initiate either
statutes or constitutional amendments by petition, followed by a majority
vote. Citizens can also file Referendum petitions that require recently
enacted laws to be referred to a vote of the people. For more information
on the Initiative and Referendum process, click on: Direct
Democracy: Initiatives and Referendums.
The following are some quick facts about the Oregon Legislative
The Senate has no more than 30 members, each elected for four-year
The House of Representatives has no more than 60 members, each elected
for two-year terms.
Districts have substantially equal population; the boundaries are
changed every 10 years to keep them equal. The Legislature has divided
the state into 30 senate and 60 representative districts.
Legislators must be citizens of at least 21 years of age, and they
must have lived in the district they represent for at least one year
prior to their election. They must continue living in that district
during their term.
Regular legislative sessions are held every two years. Special sessions
can be called by the Governor or a majority of legislators.
Each house sets its rules and can discipline or expel its members.
Each proposed law (called a "bill") must cover just one
subject and matters properly connected to it.
Bills can originate in either house, but tax bills must start in
the House of Representatives.
Bills must receive majority votes in both houses and approval of
the Governor (or two-thirds to override a veto) before becoming a
All sessions of the Legislature and its committees must be open to
the public. Legislators must vote publicly, and each is responsible
for keeping public records of its actions and votes.
The Oregon Legislature must balance the state budget every two years.
Who are these people who write our laws?
Legislators make up the Legislative Assembly. These men and women we
elect have a tremendous impact on our daily lives. These are our representatives,
and they enact thousands of statutes that affect us. They determine
how to spend tax dollars and how the tax burden will be shared, and
they define state policy in thousands of problems and issues. Finally,
they have the power to confirm or veto most of the Governor’s appointments
to public offices.
Quick facts about Legislators:
Legislators work part-time. They go to our state capitol in Salem
for about five to seven months every other year. When the session
is over, most return to other jobs.
The typical range in age for legislators is 33 to 84, with an average
age of 53.
Both men and women serve as legislators. Both the Democratic and
Republican parties are represented in the Legislative Assembly.
Legislators represent many occupations and professions, including
business owners and managers, attorneys, educators, ranchers and farmers.
- Most legislators are recruited to run by political parties or special
interest groups. Some legislators seek office on their own accord.
The Executive Branch: Enforce Law
Again, as a part of a representative democracy, we elect six statewide
officials to manage the executive branch of government in Oregon.
The Constitution states that the "chief executive" power
is vested in the Governor, who shall "faithfully execute"
The Governor provides the Legislature with information and recommendations.
He or she can veto legislative acts, but legislators can vote to override
vetoes by two-thirds majorities in both houses.
The Governor can call legislators into special session, commands
the Oregon National Guard, may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons,
and may appoint people to fill vacancies in most elected offices until
the next election.
The Legislature has assigned many executive powers to the Governor,
including management of many state agencies and the power to hire
and fire their directors.
The Governor appoints about 2,000 citizens to nearly 200 state boards
The Governor fills vacancies in various full-time paid jobs, including
about 170 judicial positions. The judges are appointed to serve until
the next election.
The Governor is not responsible for administering and enforcing all
state laws. We also elect a Secretary of State who is responsible
for auditing and keeping certain records, a State Treasurer and
a Superintendent of Public Instruction. To place other limitations
on the Governor’s executive power, the Legislature created two other
elected positions, Attorney General and Commissioner of Labor
and Industries. Each of these positions is directly responsible
to the voters rather than the Governor or any other official. All are
elected to four-year terms.
Others involved in the process:
While the Governor appoints members to state boards and commissions,
the law provides that the boards operate many state programs within
laws and budgets enacted by the Legislature.
The Oregon Constitution provides citizens with the right to adopt
local charters for cities and counties.
The Constitution calls for elections in each county for the offices
of clerk, treasurer and sheriff.
- The Legislature sets qualifications for county assessors, sheriffs,
coroners and surveyors.
The Judicial Branch: Interpret Meaning of Law
Unlike our Legislators or the Governor and other elected state officials,
Oregon judges are not elected to represent us. This branch of government
was formed to provide an impartial and fair arena for resolving disputes
according to the law. Our judicial branch of government deliberates
on civil, criminal and constitutional issues. In addition to deciding
civil and criminal cases, judges in Oregon also review actions of the
executive and legislative branches of government to see that they comply
with the Oregon Constitution.
Our judicial system is based upon a number of underlying principles.
A person is presumed innocent of a crime until proven guilty in court.
No one can be charged with a felony until the government can persuade
either a Grand Jury or a judge there is no probable cause to believe
a person has committed a crime.
All persons charged with crimes are entitled to a public trial with
an impartial jury and representation by legal counsel.
Citizens may use the courts to seek civil damages or rulings.
A citizen who disputes a trial decision has a right under the laws
Judicial proceedings shall be open to the public.
For more information on our judicial system, including the role of judges,
how judges are elected, and the different types of courts and judges in
Oregon, click on: Judicial Selection –
Who’s to Judge?