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Seminole senator, former lobbyist marry, serve as foster parents in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sen. Harry Coates and Haley Atwood were married in early July. They have become foster parents in hopes of helping needy children through another angle after their extramarital affair ignited a controversy that contributed to the halt of a juvenile detention center being built in Ada.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND and ANN KELLEY Published: July 30, 2012

— More than a year after an affair between a lobbyist and lawmaker tanked a multimillion-dollar project to build a juvenile center, Sen. Harry Coates and Haley Atwood have divorced their spouses, married and opened their home to foster children.

“We can be bitter about it, but what's happened has happened,” Coates, R-Seminole, said of the scandal and fallout from the affair. “We just have to live through it, and we've lived through it. We're moving on and working to save children from another angle.”

Coates, 62, said he and Atwood, 31, are devoting their time to help needy children caught up in the child welfare system.

Both passed background checks and completed classes in February to be foster parents for the state Department of Human Services, agency spokeswoman Sheree Powell said.

“I had to go through the same process as everyone else,” Coates said.

Atwood and Coates have had two foster children — infants — in their home. They've been working directly with the Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care, a private provider of foster care services.

At the time of the affair, Atwood was lobbying for Rite of Passage, a Colorado-based company that was awarded a $10 million-a-year state contract to operate a juvenile detention center to be built in Ada. Coates was among the strongest advocates of the project that he said would have taken a positive approach to rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

The project was quashed in February 2011 after the affair between Coates and Atwood became public. Questions emerged as to whether the senator used his political influence to encourage Rite of Passage to hire his lobbyist girlfriend and secure the state contract for the company.

Coates' and Atwood's divorces were final within days of each other in early January. The baby Atwood was carrying during the controversy was fathered by her ex-husband, not Coates, court records show.

The two were married in early July, Coates said.

Foster parents

Circle of Care CEO Don Batson said Coates and Atwood are part of the agency's emergency foster care program. They take in infants and toddlers when state shelters are full. The children are generally moved to a long-term foster home or reunited with their families within 30 days, he said.

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