Vote is unanimous to drop privileges

BY DALE DENWALT
Capitol Bureau ddenwalt@oklahoman.com

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The Oklahoma Senate has suspended nearly all of Ralph Shortey’s privileges as a lawmaker following revelations that police are investigating his relationship with a minor.

The vote Wednesday was unanimous.

Tuesday, The Oklahoman revealed that the Moore Police Department was investigating why Shortey was in a hotel room with a teenage boy. Police visited the hotel room on a welfare check last week when the boy’s father raised concerns.

Shortey said he would issue a response but, so far, he hasn’t spoken publicly about the investigation. He didn’t answer the phone Wednesday and did not respond to a text message.

Shortey, 35, has not been charged with a crime.

The Senate resolution stripped Shortey of his capitol office and parking space. It also removes him from two positions as a committee vice chair and terminates his membership in other committees.

By mid-afternoon, workers had already scraped Shortey’s name off Room 412 and painted over his assigned parking space with a notice that the space is reserved for the Senate.

The Oklahoma City Republican also must return a state-owned laptop and any other state property he has in his possession.

The Senate could have expelled Shortey by a two-thirds vote but didn’t, so he will remain the senator for Oklahoma’s District 44 in southwest Oklahoma City. However, he will have virtually no power or authority. His lone executive assistant has been reassigned and he cannot spend state money on office supplies or postage.

Shortey can still vote on the Senate floor and he will also still receive a monthly paycheck of $3,200 plus benefits.

Senate leader Mike Schulz canceled his weekly meeting with reporters Wednesday afternoon and instead sent a written statement through his office.

“This is not a presumption of guilt or innocence,” said Schulz, R-Altus. “The Oklahoma Senate has full faith that the judicial system will play out appropriately and bring this matter to a lawful conclusion. This resolution reserves the right of the Oklahoma Senate to pursue further action if more facts come to light.”

The resolution adopted by the Senate cites the Oklahoma Constitution, which says that the House and Senate can punish members for disorderly behavior.

This is the second highprofile political scandal at the Oklahoma Legislature this year. Tulsa Republican Dan Kirby resigned his House seat after a committee recommended he be expelled because of inappropriate conduct with a female legislative assistant. Shortey served as Kirby’s adviser during that sexual harassment investigation.

Shortey has been active for 17 years in the YMCA’s Youth and Government organization, which lets teens participate in a program that simulates state government. YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City spokeswoman Brenda Bennett said he voluntarily removed himself as Youth and Government judicial program volunteer coordinator pending the investigation’s outcome.

“We will await to see how this case progresses before determining next steps,” Bennett said.

The Oklahoma Republican Party strongly rebuked Shortey in a news release.

“We condemn the actions of Senator Ralph Shortey to the strongest degree,” said Chair Pam Pollard. “While we believe in the right to a fair trial and that all people deserve their day in court, the accusations against Ralph Shortey are in no way in line with the principles of the Oklahoma Republican Party.”