Greer: Don't let scandals push you away from political process
Yet another political scandal has arrived. Now it's in the form of two Democratic assemblymen from the Bronx: Eric Stevenson, charged with accepting bribes, and Nelson Castro, who is resigning his seat as part of a plea deal. Earlier this week Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith was accused of bribing GOP officials for a spot on the mayoral ticket, and Republican Councilman Daniel Halloran was accused of arranging the bribes and other misdeeds.
These types of events disgust the electorate, turning off potential voters and affirming the notions of nonvoters. Any time a lawmaker is caught in scandal -- financial, sexual or downright criminal -- the trust of voters and nonvoters is further eroded.
We know scandals hurt our representative democracy, which is based on the principle that elected officials govern with the best interests of their constituents in mind. But let's be optimistic. Look at them as opportunities to become more involved in the political arena, not less.
For elected officials to act as though they're being held accountable, they have to know that voters are actually paying attention.
The twists and turns of the Smith-Halloran scandal, in particular, are complex, but many of us don't even know the straightforward basics about our government. How many of us actually know who represents us on the City Council, in the Assembly and State Senate, and in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate?
Do we know when our elected officials are in session, when they decide the budgets, how they compromise with members of their own party and the opposing party?
What bills are making their way through the various chambers right now? What's the voting record of our elected officials?
There's a lot we as citizens could know, but there is so much more information we should know as voters, potential voters -- and even abstainers. If we want to hold elected officials accountable, we must begin to slice a little more time out of our busy lives to become more active participants in our representative democracy.
The power of an elected official is bestowed -- and controlled -- by the citizenry. Scandals mean it's time to tune in to politics, not out.
Christina M Greer is an assistant professor of political science at Fordham University. She tweets as @Dr_CMGreer.