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Staff ed: Don’t let ‘R,’ ‘D’ or ‘XYZ’ be a rubber stamp

This month, Missouri voters received a lesson in the integrity of their politicians.

Republican Governor Eric Greitens, elected in 2016 on an aggressive platform of ethics reform, is now embroiled in scandal after a recording surfaced in which a woman states she was blackmailed during a sexual encounter with Greitens in 2015. Greitens, who was married at the time, has since admitted to the affair but not the blackmail. The latter is a crime. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill voted twice to keep the federal government open during the recent three-day budget shutdown. Senate Democrats initiated the shutdown, hoping to force a budget resolution that would include legal protections for “Dreamers”—undocumented individuals who were brought into the United States as children—through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. McCaskill voted against this strategy. And when the government reopened after three days, McCaskill was one of 33 Democrats to pass the budget.

If either incident bothers you, then they are good reminders. Whether you vote in Missouri, vote in another state or are an international student who nonetheless wants to be politically active, consider the actions of the candidate before you vote/volunteer for whomever has the “R,” “D” or “XYZ” next to his or her name.

A quick aside to make one thing very clear: This is not an attempt to draw any type of moral equivalency between Greitens and McCaskill. One is a hypocrite and is accused of a felony; the other is guilty of political self-preservation. What the two have in common is the disappointment of their respective bases.

Republicans potentially lost a rising star. Greitens is young (43), a Rhodes Scholar, a former Navy SEAL and Purple Heart recipient, a best-selling author and a founder for a non-profit that aids military veterans. To borrow a phrase used by the president, Greitens walked onto the national scene straight from central casting. He’s even got a little bit of President Donald Trump in him, too. He won the Republican primary as a political outsider (he was a Democrat until 2015) with no prior government experience, roasting his opponents over a firebrand platform of ethics reform—campaigning to drain the swamp, one might say. Greitens even has (or had) serious presidential aspirations, visiting Iowa back in October to shake hands with possible voters and registering the domain EricGreitensForPresident.com. But between allegations of what the Student Life editorial board would jointly consider sexual harassment, an ongoing investigation into the destruction of public records and inquiries into shadowy political donations, Greitens’ ethical crusade may attract fewer followers than he originally thought.

Meanwhile, many far-left Democrats believe McCaskill’s actions were shameful, selling out Dreamers to help boost her chances of re-election next year in a state Trump won by 20 points. While McCaskill isn’t quite the seemingly prodigal child that Greitens is, she still represents a critical Senate seat. She is one of only five Democratic senators to be from a solidly red state. A dip in her popularity could mean ceding Missouri representation in the Senate to Republicans in the next turbulent election cycle.

Greitens and McCaskill are both important members of their respective parties. But that should not insulate them from your judgment. If you are a conservative, and Greitens’ actions bother you, or if you are a liberal and McCaskill’s actions bother you, then know that you have as much power as the next Washington University student to either force them out or put pressure on them to change their stances. Participate in protests like the Women’s March or join an advocacy group like Indivisible St. Louis. Better yet, call their offices to let them know you’re mad. You can do this whether you’re a Missouri voter or not. Being an out-of-state college student can often feel like a political vacation. But even if you don’t vote here, the decisions of elected officials affect you, too. And when it comes time for their election cycle, remember their actions and decide accordingly. Same goes for every vote you ever cast.

For those looking for a more hands-on way to demonstrate their support, consider encouraging your fellow Americans to exercise their political rights by writing “Get Out The Vote” postcards for February’s special elections for the state legislature. For a more educational experience closer to home, the Washington University Center for the Humanities is hosting a lecture titled “Origins of the Radical Right and the Crisis of the American Democracy” and the Center for Preventive Action and the Council on Foreign Relations is offering a public forum entitled “America’s Next War and How to Prevent It.” In a clear leftward direction, the STL Young Dems is hosting a State of the Union “Resistance Party” this weekend for all those looking for a specific group to join.

Politicians are supposed to represent their constituents. In the coming months and years until the next election, pay attention. Take note of the choices your legislators make at the local, state and national levels. If Greitens’ and McCaskill’s actions don’t represent you, then find a candidate who will.