The state government of Georgia is the U.S. state governmental body established by the Georgia State Constitution. It is a republican government with three branches: the legislature, executive, and judiciary. Through a system of separation of powers or "checks and balances", each of these branches has some authority to act on its own, some authority to regulate the other two branches, and has some of its own authority, in turn, regulated by the other branches.
The present Georgia Constitution was adopted in 1982 and came into force in 1983. Earlier constitutions were enacted in 1777, 1789, 1799, 1861, 1865, 1868, 1877, 1945, and 1976. In total, ten have been created, more than in any other U.S. state. Amendments to the Constitution may be proposed in the Georgia legislature and must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote of both the state House and state Senate followed by ratification by a majority of the electors qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly at the next general election which is held in the even-numbered years. The Constitution can also be amended by proposal at a constitutional convention, the calling of which must receive the support of a two-thirds majority vote by both houses of the legislature and a simple majority of state voters.
The main executive official in Georgia is the Governor. They are elected by the voters of the state for a term of four years. No person may hold the office more than twice consecutively. The governor oversees the state budget and thus possesses great power over all state finances. Additionally, the governor is responsible for the nomination of over a thousand officials to a variety of positions in state government, one of the largest rosters of any U.S. state. Those nominated must be approved by the state legislature.
The legislature of Georgia is the General Assembly, a bicameral body consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 56 members and the House has 180 members. Each member of the legislature represents geographically distinct districts from which each voter may give support to one candidate for each body. For most of its history, the state used an unusual county unit system by which districts were drawn such that each had the same area. However, population growth in cities across the state led to the rural population, which was in relative decline, having disproportionate power in government. After the U.S. Supreme Court declared such unequal representation to be unconstitutional in Gray v. Sanders in 1963, state officials began to redefine legislative districts so that each had a similarly sized population. Both senators and representatives have terms of two years. There are no limits on the number of terms any person may serve.
The highest judiciary power in Georgia is the Supreme Court, which is composed of seven judges. The state also has a Court of Appeals made of 12 judges. Georgia is divided into 49 judicial circuits, each of which has a Superior Court consisting of local citizens numbering between two and 19 members depending on the circuit population. Under the 1983 Constitution, Georgia also has magistrate courts, probate courts, juvenile courts, state courts; the General Assembly may also authorize municipal courts. Other courts, including county recorder's courts, civil courts and other agencies in existence on June 30, 1983, may continue with the same jurisdiction until otherwise provided by law.
Each county in Georgia has at least one superior court, magistrate court, probate court, and where needed a state court and a juvenile court; in the absence of a state court or a juvenile court, the superior court exercises that jurisdiction.
All serving judges are elected by popular vote either from the entire state in the cases of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals or from a given circuit in the case of Superior Courts. Judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals serve for terms of six years. Judges of other courts serve for terms of four years.
Georgia is divided into 159 counties, more than any other U.S. state except Texas. Among all counties, 149 of them are governed by a committee made of between three and eleven commissioners. The other 10 counties are overseen by a single commissioner. All commissioners are elected by the voters of their county for terms that range between two and six years with most counties having terms lasting four years. Serving members wield both executive and legislative power in their county.
Most of the 536 cities in Georgia are governed by a mayor-council system. All municipalities in the state are considered cities. There are no lesser incorporations such as towns, villages, or boroughs. Most basic public services rendered outside of the cities are provided by the counties.
Georgia has had five different capitals in its history. The first was Savannah, the seat of government during British colonial rule, followed by Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville, and Atlanta, the capital city from 1868 to the present day. The state legislature has gathered for official meetings in other places, most often in Macon and especially during the American Civil War.
About half of all appropriations in the Georgia state budget each year are funded by state taxes, with the remainder of revenue coming from federal grants and state bonds. In recent years, Georgia has had one of the best performing economies of the U.S. states as it relates to both taxation-to-spending and tax-to-debt ratios. It also has the fourth lowest per capita government debt.
The Province of Georgia was founded in 1733 as a British colony by way of royal charter through a trust led by James Oglethorpe, a member of Parliament who had originally envisioned it as a place to resettle volunteering debtors instead of sending them to prison. It was named after King George II, the reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies at that time. Soon after its creation, this new entity served the multiple purposes of occupying land where the native Yamasee had once lived before the Yamasee War, protecting prior establishments in South Carolina from the Spanish presence in Florida, and hindering the escape of West African slaves from reaching lands beyond the frontier and the control of their owners.
Although most early Georgia colonists were English, Scottish, and German artisans seeking arable land or freedom of religion, many of them complained to their leaders that the slave ban created a labor shortage that impeded local finances compared to other Southern colonies. After Spain failed to conquer the area during the War of Jenkins' Ear, slavery became legal in 1749 and altered the balance of power. Thousands of slaves were brought in to work on plantations producing rice, indigo, and sugar. Their owners, mostly South Carolina planters, were wealthier than the established inhabitants and soon got most of the official appointments in the Crown colony that replaced the trusteeship in 1754.
Georgia had two rival governments during the American Revolutionary War: the appointed Loyalist regime of James Wright and the Patriot administration first led by Archibald Bulloch. After escaping revolutionary forces, Wright fled the colony in 1776 but organized a return backed by British military force in 1778 only to leave again in 1782 following the end of hostilities and victory by the rebels. Despite his untimely death in 1777, Bulloch and his colleagues founded a republican system and Georgia became the fourth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1788.
While Georgia started along the Atlantic Ocean and the Savannah River, westward settlement made territorial issues prominent. An expansion from the Altamaha River to the St. Marys River and the drawing of southern and northern borders neglected a western boundary, which was first the Pacific Ocean and then the Mississippi River. A federal desire for more states and nationwide anger at the Yazoo Fraud obliged Georgia leaders to delimit their claim in 1802 at the Chattahoochee River up to its head of navigation at the site of modern Columbus and a line running north by west from there.
In the early United States, most Georgia politicians stood with the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party favoring strict constructionism in constitutional law and states' rights over federal power. Unlike the Federalist Party, which backed strong central government, Jeffersonians wanted a freer hand in both Indian removal and expanded plantation slavery. Before the Revolution, Georgia was home to the native Creek and Cherokee, but the advent of the cotton gin in 1793 and the Georgia Gold Rush in 1829 spurred runs on land. The Georgia Land Lottery tried to reduce corruption by giving native lands to poorer citizens, but did so as native treaties like the Treaty of Indian Springs were broken or revised.
By the 1830s, Georgia politics was split by the Jacksonian Democratic Party and the Anti-Jacksonian Whig Party. After the Jacksonian-favored Indian Removal Act of 1830 was voided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Worcester v. Georgia in 1832 on the grounds that Indian natives were entitled to federal protection, the ruling was ignored by both presidents and the state, leading to what is now called the Trail of Tears. Slavery expanded throughout the state and the legislature declared black people to be noncitizens in 1842. After the Compromise of 1850 tried to resolve slavery as an issue, the Georgia Platform was accepted by many Southerners as the policy by which secession could be avoided.
After the 1850s merger of most state Whigs into a reinvented Democratic Party that was now inflexible on both the expansion of slavery and a highly devolved federalism, the victory of the moderately abolitionist Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860 drove Georgia to become the fifth state to approve an Ordinance of Secession. A founding member of the Confederate States of America in 1861, the state sent tens of thousands of soldiers to fight in the American Civil War, most of whom served in the Eastern Theater, and supplied many kinds of materiel to the Confederate Army. War fervor tended to be weaker in the northern and southwestern parts of Georgia where yeoman subsistence agriculture predominated and stronger in the central and coastal areas that intensively used plantations (excepting the slave population). The state governor at the time, Joseph E. Brown, was in favor of both secession and the Confederacy but was also a prominently vocal critic of policy initiatives by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Gross shortages of all basic food and medicine came to plague the state, the most notorious consequence of which came to pass at Andersonville Prison. After the advancing Union army led by General William Tecumseh Sherman took Georgia in 1864, countless people were either casualties or displaced, and civil disorder prevailed.
Following the end of martial law and readmission to the Union during Reconstruction, Georgia was overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party. It existed under one-party rule for a hundred years as did many other former states of the Confederacy. White voters often perceived the Republican Party as the party of the North standing for Yankee values, growing industrialisation, and an excessively powerful and interfering federal government all arrayed against their localized agricultural society. The abolition of slavery by amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the legacy of an economy damaged by war and social upheaval led many to bitterly oppose a wide variety of national policies.
From 1872 to 2002, Georgia voters consistently elected Democrats as governor and Democratic majorities to the state legislature. Georgia Democrats and other party members from the South tended to be more segregationist and populist than the party at large. These Dixiecrats had more traditional views about culture, business, and religion than moderate and reformist factions did. Elections to the U.S. Congress during this period also saw both exclusively Democratic senators and either totally or almost-totally Democratic House delegations.
Beginning in the 1950s, the credible enforcement of new laws inspired by the Civil Rights Movement began to steadily erode the preponderance of Democrats in elective office in Georgia. The repeal of Jim Crow laws allowed previously disenfranchised African Americans to vote in elections and be active in politics. As many of these people joined with some white Democrats to work for more immediate liberal and pluralistic policies, a growing number of conservative white Democrats who supported either gradual change or none at all became Republicans, making Georgia politically competitive throughout the late 20th century.
The current Governor of Georgia is Sonny Perdue, who is serving his second term of four years each and became the first Republican governor in 130 years. The Lieutenant Governor is Casey Cagle. Other notable state executive officials include Secretary of State Karen Handel, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, Commissioner of Insurance John Oxendine, and Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox.
The Georgia General Assembly has been controlled by the Republicans since 2002. They have majorities over the Democrats in both the Senate and House of Representatives by margins of 33 to 23 and 101 to 79 respectively as of 2008. In congressional elections, Georgia is now represented in the U.S. Senate by Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, who are both Republicans. The state also sends 13 members to the U.S. House of Representatives, which in 2008 included 7 Republicans and 6 Democrats.