Fallin names new Labor Commissioner following tragic death of Mark Costello

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Melissa McLawhorn Houston

OKLAHOMA CITY — Despite Cathy Costello’s request to fill the position, Governor Mary Fallin has appointed Melissa McLawhorn Houston as the labor commissioner.

Houston, who has been chief of staff and policy adviser for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt since 2011, will serve the remainder of the late Labor Commissioner Mark Costello‘s term.

Although Cathy’s request to fulfill her husband’s position was denied, Fallin said she took the inquiry 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.”

According to the governor’s office, 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 also has a law degree from the University of  Oklahoma College of Law.

Houston has directed administrative operations of $30 million in the attorney general’s office, and she oversaw and managed more than $170 million in federal programming and funds while chief of staff at the Office of Homeland Security.

That’s why Governor Fallin thinks Houston is well suited to be “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.”

“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.”

“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.”

State chamber of Oklahoma President & CEO Fred Morgan made the following statement on the appointment of Melissa McLawhorn Houston as Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor:

“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. 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. We look forward to working with her on the important issues facing oklahoma’s business community and thank governor mary fallin for this appointment.”

Once Mark Costello’s term is up, voters will elect a new labor commissioner in Nov. 2018. The newly elected labor commissioner will begin serving in Jan. 2019.

Houston reportedly said she is not going to seek election to the labor commissioner post in 2018.