Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Short-sighted Ralph Shortey: A Made in OK Legislator



Ralph Shortey of the Oklahoma House of Representatives appears to be misinformed or intentionally misleading. His public statements and policies lack the empathy, knowledge, and experience that would make him a thoughtful, responsible legislator, and as a mentor for Oklahoma's youth through the State's (YMCA) Youth and Government program, he should set a better example.

One proof of my claim about Mr. Shortey is that he has taken a stern, off-putting, and hyperbolic stand on immigration. On his web site “Ralph Shortey: State Senate Republican,” (http://shortyforsenate.com/index.php? pageID=7108_2), he or one of his staff writes that illegal immigration is the “number-one issue” facing south Oklahoma City because

·      “Drug lords and gang leaders see our inability to deal with illegal immigration as an open opportunity to expand their evil doings.”
·      “The illegal immigration problem has overloaded our schools to the point of bursting and has put a burden on our teachers that no one could expect them to thrive in. There are simply too many students, most of whom are from illegal families, than we can support through taxes and physical space. The effect is that every student suffers and many drop out because they cannot become educated and they see it as a waste of time.”
·      “As more illegal immigrants flood our state they also flood the ER’s and waiting rooms of our hospitals. Because of the compassion and unwillingness to see a fellow human being suffer, our hospitals treat and absorb the cost of those treatments. This is an undue burden on the hospitals and prices for treatments skyrocket for those of us who are law abiding citizens unwilling to get something for nothing, because in order to survive the hospitals must pass those costs onto those who will pay.”

According to a January 2012 report prepared by the CDC (Center for Disease Contol and Prevention), using municipal police reports for the period 2003-2008, Oklahoma City is indeed one of the top five cities where gang related violence and death occur. Nothing in this report places blame upon illegal immigrants; in fact, the greater proportion of those involved are black, not Latino, males. Furthermore, in April 2012, Oklahoma’s Own News9 online, provided an AP report revealing that the number of illegal immigrants has declined across the United States as a result of a failing economy, not Draconian anti-immigration ideas advanced by men such as Ralph Shortey.

Perhaps Mr. Shortey was unaware that municipal police forces could provide information that would have allowed him to be more accurate about “evil doings” in our community, but I fear that his true motive may be to play down accurate information in order to create a scapegoat for South Oklahoma City’s violence and hardship deriving more from chronic poverty, limited opportunities, racial antipathies, and a failed war on drugs than from illegal immigration.

Data also do not support Mr. Shortey’s claims that schools are overcrowded and “overloaded” by illegal immigrants. The Pew Hispanic Center, using 2010 Community Survey reports for the U. S. Census Bureau, informs us that only 13% of the student population in all OK schools is Hispanic, and 63% of all Hispanics in the State are native-born; i.e., legal U. S. citizens. Thus, illegal immigrants have not crowded into OK schools or overburdened schools, and Mr. Shortey’s web site should not make such a claim. That site was updated in 2012, the same year that the Pew Hispanic Center report was made available.

The Pew report also reveals that “in 2008, ‘Children of unauthorized immigrants are 6.8 percent of students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12,’ an increase from the 5.4 percent in 2003” (http://www.ajc.com/opinion/educating-illegal-immigrants-is-594092.html). In other words, in just five years, the percentage of all children born to illegal immigrants and enrolled in public schools increased only 1.4%--except in California where the number and percentage are greater. Perhaps Mr. Shortey has used California’s plight and rhetoric to declare a position on the education of illegal immigrants.

Whatever information, if any, that Mr. Shortey accessed, he has overstated the case and ignored other real problems that Oklahoma faces: underfunded schools, especially in poorer neighborhoods and districts; cutbacks in Oklahoma’s social net, preventing many children from being successful due to hunger and sickness; and cultural biases.

Finally, Mr. Shortey claims that Oklahoma hospitals treat uninsured illegal immigrants and pass the cost on to Oklahoma citizens, a claim that smacks of the “Nanny-state” lament heard in conservative circles. To be sure, Oklahoma does not abide the “Nanny-state” philosophy; in fact, laws passed in OK (May, 2008) prevent illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits; therefore, hospitals have no access  to federal money, including Medicaid, for reimbursement. OK mired itself in trouble by passing legislation that fosters health and good will for some, but not all humanity. Such action in international circles would be condemned as acts against human rights.

More important, most illegal immigrants, while uninsured, do not seek treatment, primarily because they fear deportation. In addition, “Because most illegal immigrants are relatively young and healthy, they generally don't need as much health care treatment as U.S. citizens, studies show. . . . they account for less than 2% of national medical spending” (http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-01-21-immigrant-healthcare_N.htm). It appears that once again, Mr. Shortey has overstated the problem facing Oklahomans, failed to conduct any research whatsoever, or purposefully misled his constituents.

Good fiscal planning and policy require thorough analyses based upon available information. We need politicians and elected officers who will demand all of the information, pass it along to their constituents, and guide legislation that will serve the greatest number of people at the most conservative cost without starving one segment of the population or one public institution in order to prop up another whether it is Corporate America, the Chambers of Commerce, or public benefits.

Above all, public leaders must not stand on the shoulders of others in order to help a select group rise. That is what Atticus Finch, a fictional model for good governance, would demand of us, and that is what I demand of Mr. Shortey. He should cease and desist posting on his web site generalized assertions unsupported by data, and he should avoid the dangerous whirlpool of bias that threatens to drown all of us.

Next Week: Representative Shortey's views on personhood, privacy, men and women.