Republican Leslie Osborn said she is determined to solve Oklahoma’s economic struggles, end excessive regulations and break through partisan divides if she is elected as the state’s next labor commissioner.


Osborn, a former small business owner and state representative for House District 47 in Canadian and Grady counties, visited Bartlesville Friday to discus why she is running for the Republican nomination.


She grew up in Indiana, after her parents moved there to take up a job on a registered Hereford cattle ranch. Osborn grew up showing cattle in Indiana for 17 years of her life. Right before going to college, her parents decided to move back to the panhandle of Texas, and she decided to go to Oklahoma State University, where she received her degree in business administration.


The Oklahoma life grew on Osborn, where she absolutely loved what the state had to offer. She married during her senior year at OSU and moved to Tuttle and raised two children. In Tuttle, she started her own business, Osborn Pick-Up Accessories. Osborn was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2008 and worked on signature legislation on worker’s compensation reform and Women in Recovery, a private-public partnership to help reduce recidivism rates for women in prison.


Osborn said some of the key issues she worked on in the legislature directly impacted the Oklahoma Department of Labor, some work that she wants to continue.


“I love the mission of the labor department. It’s basically about the safety of citizens and safety for employees,” Osborn said. “I’ve been in the legislature for 10 years, ran several bills that affected the Department of Labor and actually worked with several labor commissioners on legislation. I saw what their purview was.”


As a small business owner for 22 years, Osborn said the job of labor commissioner and the Department of Labor is to go out to all 77 counties and interface with all existing small businesses across the state to make sure they are able to operate efficiently and safely.


“Sometimes we forget about the people out there in every county across the state that are already providing jobs, and I feel like they need more of a voice,” Osborn said. “One of the most successful things the Department of Labor does is a proactive consultation program for safety, where they offer free services to every business on coming in to see if they are keeping their employees safe. It’s discrete and voluntary, but in just the last fiscal year alone, it has saved the potential of $52 million in OSHA fines, where people saw things that were wrong, corrected them, got their certificate, better insurance rates, kept their employees safe, and not assessed fees and fines from OSHA.”


Osborn said she would like to go a step further and interact with those businesses, to talk about burdensome regulations, tax code, tax credits, licenses, workforce development and other items that may stymie the safe and successful operations of small business in Oklahoma.


“I think that’s a natural fit because just this week, Gov. Fallin tasked our current Labor Commissioner Melissa Houston with workforce development,” Osborn said. “It’s a natural fit because you’re already out interacting. We’re going to help you with your safety, and we want to be a conduit back to the the legislature on workforce development.”


Another aspect of the Department of Labor’s responsibility is licensing and inspecting for certain industries. Osborn said there are over 1,000 licenses for different work positions, a number that she says is burdensome for Oklahoma workers and employees.


“We have a huge amount of licenses with a varying degree of qualifications, so after reading the results of licensing studies and Commissioner Houston, I absolutely believe we need to continue to work on solutions to reduce unnecessary licenses and make sure the current study going on is producing the results that are best for Oklahomans,” Osborn said.


As a former chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, Osborn said agency cuts were difficult for the state, and the Department of Labor was no different. For an agency that is tasked to oversee workplace safety and health, the cuts were deep.


Osborn sounded the alarm several times after years of budget shortfalls, and worked to overcome those challenges. She said she became frustrated over the House leadership’s refusal to hear those alarm bells. As a result, Speaker of the House Charles McCall removed her as chair of the Appropriations and Budget Committee.


Osborn said civil discourse is missing at the State Capitol, and many do not have the ability to agree to disagree.


“There’s a lot of politicians at the Capitol. I’m not a politician, I’m a statesman,” Osborn said. “It’s very difficult to be a statesman because that means you are willing to look at every side and sometimes make decisions that are not popular with everyone. I’m not looking for that next election, like politicians do. I’ve always said that in my career I would rather make the right decision, rather than the politically-expedient decision.”