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Labor Commissioner Costello vs. the enemies of reform
Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello
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Central Oklahoma is a long distance from my home in northern Michigan, but, thanks to the mighty Internet, I've been following a former Edmond next-door neighbor's political doings with enthusiastic interest. 

That would be Mark Costello, the labor commissioner for the great state of Oklahoma.

I was delighted when he won the general election last November, as I was convinced that under his watch positive, courageous reform would be the norm.

I just didn't dream how good … and controversial … he would be.

The Department of Labor, as Sooner State political junkies are aware, has long been largely the dominion of progressives and labor unions. In contrast, Commissioner Costello is now utilizing his office to level the playing field between the public and private sectors. Parity in Oklahoma, the non-profit 501(c)(4) that he founded and chairs, seeks balance in the areas of 'Pay, Performance, Pensions and Perks.'  This type of initiative, which includes a website, is cutting-edge, the wave of the future.  State governments, searching for ways to save dollars, can be assisted in their quest by watchdogs and educational entities. For instance, Pension Tsunami, a project of the respected California Public Policy Center, monitors the 'oncoming wave of pension debt.'

Unfortunately, the enemies of reform never sleep.

Parity in Oklahoma has already come under fire from Wallace Collins, the Oklahoma Democratic Party chair, who has called for Costello's resignation, questioned the tax status of his non-profit, and said that the Commissioner wants to "... eliminate all rights of the middle class."

Really, Mr. Collins?

In a state full of colorful public figures, Collins is unique in that he was once found to have libeled a political opponent (during a campaign). This finding of libel (an extraordinarily high bar for political speech) was later affirmed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.   

In addition to igniting the ire of the adjudicated liar, Mr. Collins, a Communist-sympathizing blog known as “People's World” dubbed the Commissioner's ideology “fascist-like” and made the usual sophomoric, eye-rolling comparisons to Hitler.

What seems to have sparked all the controversy is Parity in Oklahoma's signature proposals. For instance, Paycheck Protection is aimed at getting the Oklahoma government out of the dues collecting business - monies that are usually used for political purposes.  As Commissioner Costello has rightly observed, "It is time to end the practice of politicizing the paychecks of state employees.  We shouldn't collect money for any politicized purpose, not the A.C.L.U., nor the John Birch Society, nor the Republican Party."  

Another incremental reform proposed by my former-neighbor-turned-politico is to expand the probationary period of merit-protected state employees from one year to three years, to match that of public school teachers before they achieve tenure.  A three-year probationary time frame assures a 'winnowing out' period, whereby only the best hires are retained for public service.  The result, hopefully, will be a more professional workforce, better overall morale, an increase in productivity, better pay, and the attitude that 'working for the State of Oklahoma is a privilege, not a right' (as Mark likes to puts it).

These are commonsense initiatives coming from a visionary entrepreneur, who has taken a sabbatical from his business interests to champion conservative principles in the public sector. It's in that time-tested American tradition of giving back to one's community.

Just about now I'm wishing I still lived in Commissioner Costello's community, so I could personally tell him, “Attaboy!” 

Izzy Lyman can be reached at She lives in Petoskey, Michigan.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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