Shortey voters feel betrayed following scandal
BY BEN FELDER
Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Maggie Bennett found the news of her state senator allegedly engaging in child prostitution disturbing, but not surprising.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in (public) officials, so I’m not sure I’m shocked,” she said. “This is a pretty big scandal, though.”
State Sen. Ralph Shortey, a Republican representing part of south Oklahoma City, was charged this week with three felony prostitution counts: child prostitution, engaging in prostitution within 1,000 feet of a church and transporting a minor for prostitution.
Bennett watched her grandchildren play Thursday at Southern Oaks Park in Shortey’s district. In 2015, Shortey had fought the city and county on a proposed wellness center near the park because he said it would attract prostitutes to the neighborhood, which included a school.
“Most of the people that take advantage of that, are people that we really don’t want around an elementary school,” Shortey said at the time. “As you know, in south Oklahoma City, we have a prostitution problem. How many prostitutes are going to come to this location, looking for family planning services that’s right next door to an elementary school?”
Shortey also spearheaded an effort this year to roll back a series of sentencing reform measures Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed last November, arguing voters did not understand the child safety risk it presented.
“He’s so concerned about child safety, isn’t he?” Bennett said sarcastically.
Shortey’s opponents quickly accused him of a hypocritical career as someone who fought to be tough on crime and enhance public safety. His colleagues in the Senate voted to strip him of his privileges as a lawmaker.
Those who voted for him said the news of his scandal was disappointing.
“It bothers me that he was with a teenager,” said Mary Fricke, a retired resident of south Oklahoma City who voted for Shortey in 2014. “If it were two men together it wouldn’t bother me. I think he is taking advantage of a kid.”
District 44, where Shortey was first elected in 2010, is shaped like the letter “c,” hugging Interstate 40 as it cuts through the heart of Oklahoma City and includes a collection of middle class neighborhoods on either side of Interstate 240.
Once a Democratic stronghold in the 1990s, the district was redrawn to pick up suburban communities in southwest Oklahoma City, which helped swing the seat to the Republicans seven years ago.
“They get a big salary for hardly working at all,” Fricke said about the state Legislature. “(Shortey) should be gone, gone, gone; no salary, no nothing.”
The Oklahoma Senate has already stripped Shortey of his Capitol office and leadership positions. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who serves as president of the Oklahoma Senate, has called on Shortey to resign.
Susan Phillips, who volunteers as a crossing guard at a south Oklahoma City elementary school, said she was frustrated by allegations about Shortey’s actions, especially during a time when the state faces another budget hole that is threatening schools, public safety and health care services.
“Our state should be ashamed of itself for a lot of reasons, not just because we’ve got lawmakers preying on teenagers,” Phillips said.
The south end of District 44 has a collection of old diners and sandwich shops nestled in strip centers built a half century ago. But the string of fast food restaurants close to the highway exits have begun to serve as the new hangout for some of the area’s longtime residents.
“My first thought was ‘of course it was him,’ just because he’s the guy that is always talking about being against that kind of stuff,” said Kevin Berry, who was sipping on his third cup of coffee inside a McDonald’s where a group of retired men gather a few days a week to talk Sooner football, the weather and often politics.
Berry said he typically votes Republican and figured he probably voted for Shortey the last time he was on the ballot. He said the district is a diverse mix of retired couples and new minority families attracted by modest and affordable housing, but faces economic challenges and struggling schools.
“You’d like to think these guys are up there trying to make our lives better,” Berry said. “He needs to go.”