With the blessing of the State Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Mary Fallin declined to name the widow of slain Labor Commissioner Mark Costello as his interim replacement.
Cathy Costello, who worked along side her husband in their businesses for more than 30 years, petitioned Fallin to replace her husband but Fallin instead chose Melissa McLawhorn Houston, who will hold that position at least until January 2019.
“On behalf of the State Chamber, I’d like to congratulate my friend Melissa McLawhorn Houston on her appointment to the Commissioner of Labor post,” said Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma. “I’ve known her for more than 20 years and she is a dedicated public servant with a vast knowledge of how a state agency should be run. I’m confident she will do an excellent job continuing the legacy set by her predecessor, Mark Costello, in operating the agency in an efficient manner.”
Mark Costello, who was elected to a second term in 2014, was murdered in August. His son has been charged in connection with his slaying.
Houston has been chief of staff and policy adviser for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt since 2011.
The commissioner of labor is responsible for the enforcement of labor laws that promote fairness and equity in the workforce, including state wage laws, workers’ compensation compliance, state Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws for public employers, child labor laws and various other duties. The safety standards division regulates welding practices as well as the installation, operation and maintenance of boilers, pressure vessels, hot water heaters, amusement rides and elevators.
The licensing division issues alarm and locksmith, asbestos, welder, boiler operator, installer, elevator, certificate of competency, weld test facility, weld inspector, alternative fuels, and private employment agency licenses. The division also accepts payments for inspections and violations.
Before serving as the attorney general’s chief of staff, Houston served for nine years (2002-2011) as the chief of staff for the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security. Prior to that, she served as deputy director for the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association and as an attorney for the Oklahoma Truth in Sentencing Policy Advisory Commission. She has a law degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
“Melissa knows how to run a state agency and how to ensure the public is getting the most out of the dollars it invests,” said Fallin. “I know she is excited to build on Mark Costello’s legacy of delivering a more efficient and effective state agency. Her expertise and experience in budget-management will be particularly important to the Labor Department during what is sure to be a challenging fiscal year for the state.”
Houston said she was honored to be chosen.
“Throughout my career in state government, I have learned a lot about the challenges we face and the solutions that will help us overcome those obstacles,” said Houston. “More importantly, I’ve developed a great pride for this state and its people, and I look forward to joining the very hardworking and qualified staff at the Department of Labor and to furthering its mission in this new role. It has been a privilege to work for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, but I am excited about this new opportunity to serve the people and the state of Oklahoma.”
Voters will elect a new labor commissioner in November 2018 (to begin serving in January 2019). Houston said she is not going to seek election to the labor commissioner post in 2018.
Fallin said she took the request of Cathy Costello seriously.
“Cathy is a wonderful woman and I am heartbroken for her loss,” said Fallin. “I wish Cathy the best and I hope she continues to be an important state advocate for mental health issues.”
Houston will begin her new job by Dec. 1.