State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, announced late last week that she is in the process of putting together an exploratory committee to consider running for Oklahoma Labor Commissioner.
As Labor Commissioner, Osborn’s focus will be on retaining the state’s educators since the measure will strengthen the state’s case for attracting other
“At this time, Oklahoma is 50th in the nation on tax collection,” Osborn said during an interview Saturday. “I hear politicians still running on ‘cut my taxes.’ You really can’t go a lot lower than 50th. At some point, it’s going to take getting off those doorstop promises and actually looking at the reality that we need to do more than that.
“I am certainly not talking about raising taxes hugely to grow government, but I am talking about quality of life issues: education, our children, our teachers. All of those things go hand-in-hand with building jobs and keeping jobs in our state. I truly believe we’re on a precipice that if we don’t act to change our course, it’s going to be too hard to ever dig out of.”
Osborn’s announcement comes in the wake of losing her position as the House Chair of the Appropriations and Budget Committee on Tuesday, July 18. She had a public disagreement Monday, July 17 with House Speaker Charles McCall, who fired her the next day.
The disagreement is complicated. Essentially, the Department of Human Services, like most state agencies, was hit with some devastating budget cuts that forced them to make eliminate or cut popular programs for seniors, foster parents and the developmentally disabled.
The agency was provided a larger budget for this fiscal year than last However, according to agency leadership, additional funding hasn’t made up for previous cuts, population growth and inflation.
In his July 14 release, McCall didn’t understand why the agency would need to cut the programs after being appropriated more money than they did last fiscal year.
“Frankly, I am perplexed as to why an agency that could afford these programs last year would claim it can no longer afford them this year after receiving a $53 million increase from taxpayers. This is an agency that received $700 million in taxpayer dollars last session.”
Osborn’s opinion was that these cuts were not the fault of DHS, but the funding of the agency.
“There’s no doubt that DHS’s costs have grown far in excess of appropriations,” Osborn said. “Over the last few years, the Legislature has worked hard to increase the appropriation from $672 million to $700 million, but we can’t discount the fact that, during this same period, DHS has faced cost increases and lost revenue totaling at least $175 million. That is obviously far more than the $28 million increase in appropriations.”
To Osborn’s point, the agency was only funded for the first ten months of the 2017 fiscal year. Because of this, the legislator had to go back and supplement the appropriations to the agency.
Osborn took the side she felt was right, which was contradictory to the Speaker, and the Speaker retaliated with predictable good ol’ boy politics. Rather than public discourse leading to some sort of mutually beneficial compromise, Osborn was released from her role as the A&B Chair less than one year after being named by McCall in December 2016.
She lost her position for being principled. However, this is not a comment on the Speaker’s decision, but an endorsement of Osborn to be the head of the Oklahoma Labor Commission. She said her experience as the A&B Chair will help her in serving the state as its labor commissioner.
“A lot of the information and viewpoints came from the year I was blessed to be charged with the budget,” Osborn said. “A lot of people would have said that was the most horrifying job you could have. I realize how much I learned about our structural imbalance of not taxing like a 21st century state, and it was a great experience.”
Before her time with the A&B Committee, one of the most pivotal positions for deciding how the state spends its money, Osborn was serving in similar capacities. She was a subcommittee chair for the A&B Natural Resources Subcommittee and a Vice-Chair before that. Osborn has served her district since 2008, and served the private sector as a small business owner in Tuttle prior to that.
She is already receiving public, bipartisan support.
Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, has served alongside Osborn on the Appropriations and Budget Committee for years. She said Wednesday, July 19 that she was upset about the firing and commended Osborn on her teamwork.
“I was elected in 2010 and Leslie has been there the entire time,” Virgin said. “I was upset about her losing the Chair. I think she does a good job. She’s been great to work with. She is willing to have conversations across the aisle to solve problems without worrying about which party gets the credit.”
State Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, said Wednesday, July 19 he will fully support Osborn in her bid for labor commissioner.
“Leslie is extremely knowledgeable about the issues that are concerning this state,” Paxton said. “She’s a go-to person in the House.
Her and the Senate Appropriations Chair Kim David worked together a lot to help bridge the gap we had in the budget. She is very well-respected across the state and across the aisle. Wherever Leslie decides to put her efforts, she’ll be very successful there. She knows the issues and any issue she takes on is an issue we will probably see solved.”
Currently, Melissa McLawhorn Houston is serving as Oklahoma Labor Commissioner. However, McLawhorn has stated publicly that she has no intentions on running for the seat in 2018.
If Osborn has a Republican opponent, the primary will be held on June 26 with the general election Nov. 6, 2018.