One state officer believes it’s time to turn away from being a “good” member of a political party or someone who latches onto it being an us against them world.
Instead, Leslie Osborn, still in her first term as Oklahoma’s labor commissioner, thinks today’s deeply divided climate in things like politics has got to get turned around.
Osborn offered some of her views during a recent visit with several members of the Pauls Valley Rotary Club.
“I don’t think we’ve been this divided since the Vietnam War,” Osborn said.
However, she also believes places like Oklahoma don’t feel the impact of this sharp division as much as other places.
“People here just want a better place to live in; a place that’s good for their families,” she said.
“It’s not such a rigid black and white box. Sometimes we’ve got to break bread with someone who has differences. We need to look at different points of view and let’s get back to bipartisanship.
“One thing I would say is turn off the news. It’s talking heads screaming at each other and pointing out all the differences.
“Get back to reading your local newspaper and having dinner with your families every night.”
As for what the relatively small labor commission actually does, Osborn says she tries to offer more with regular presentations all over Oklahoma.
“I try to go out once a week to somewhere in the 77 counties and talk about what the labor commission does because nobody know what it does. I didn’t know what it did until I got to into the Legislature,” she said about her previous time in the state House.
“I want to see real people in the Legislature, like farmers, nurses and mechanics; people running real businesses and the ones that know what the real issues are in Oklahoma.”
Osborn says the labor commission actually has 10 functions with almost all of them about safety. That can range from educating people about child labor laws to the proper ways to get workers the pay they deserve.
In fact, she says the department helped collect about $1 million in back wages for workers in 2018.
“What that means to me is these are people who would have been evicted from their apartments and it means families can stay intact and have food on the table.
“Our goal is to have less of the bad actors,” Osborn said, referring to business owners. “Occasionally we have people who just don’t know how to pay wages.”
Another function of the labor commission is to serve as a consultant to help businesses be safer for their workers.
“We’ll come out and build them a safety plan, help them implement it. The best benefit is keeping employees safe. We have one of the lowest rates in the U.S. of people being hurt on the job. It’s a very proactive program.”
Healthcare, especially in the rural areas of Oklahoma, also isn’t far from Osborn’s mind.
“Thank goodness you’re here opening that hospital back up,” she said while pointing out a couple of representatives from the Southern Plains Medical Group in attendance at the PV meeting.
Southern Plains opened an urgent care center a few weeks ago in the emergency room area at the building housing the Pauls Valley General Hospital for decades.
The group’s hope is to get the former hospital’s license renewed and then start providing more medical services there later this year.
“I want this to be place where businesses want to come and to stay,” Osborn said about the state as a whole
“Nobody wants to move a rural manufacturing operation to a place where a hospital or ER isn’t close by.”
The labor commissioner also believes it’s important to focus more on investment in the state to help such things as rural healthcare and even better preparing inmates for when they’re released from prison.
“I call myself a reasonable Republican who understands investment. We’ve got to invest for substance abuse. Sometimes we’ve got to invest in criminal justice, rural healthcare, school class sizes, mental health services,” she said.
“We’ve got to make sure the money gets to those places that can make a difference.”