OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla._Oklahoma has a new labor commissioner following the death of Labor Commissioner Mark Costello in August.
Governor Mary Fallin announced Tuesday that Melissa McLawhorn Houston will serve as the labor commissioner until January 2019, which is the remainder of Costello's term. Houston has served as the chief of staff and policy advisor for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt since 2011.
Before serving as the attorney general's chief of staff, Houston spent nine years as the chief of staff for the Oklahoma Office and Homeland Security. Prior to that, she was the deputy director for the Oklahoma Sheriff's Association and was an attorney for the Oklahoma Truth in Sentencing Policy Advisory Commission.
Houston has extensive experience in state agency operational management, legislative process and budgeting. She has overseen and 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.
"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 Governor 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. Houston says she is not going to seek election in 2018.
In the wake of Costello's murder, his widow, Cathy Costello, had asked to be considered for the role of interim labor commissioner. Governor Fallin said she took that request seriously.
"Cathy is a wonderful woman and I am heartbroken for her loss," said Governor Fallin. "I wish Cathy the best and I hope she continues to be an important state advocate for mental health issues."
Houston will begin serving as the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner by December 1.