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8.24.22 – Oklahoman 

Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn survived a governor-backed challenger Tuesday, winning a Republican primary runoff.

Osborn, who is seeking reelection to her statewide seat after her first term, had been forced into a runoff by Sean Roberts, a state legislator endorsed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The race had turned contentious in recent weeks as 20-year-old allegations of domestic violence against Roberts surfaced.

But Osborn said she believed voters wanted to see continued momentum in addressing job shortages and implementing licensing reforms.

“We have some great programs that are just getting off the ground, so I’m excited to have the chance to see it through over the next four years,” Osborn told The Oklahoman on Tuesday evening.

Osborn, who was the only statewide incumbent on Tuesday’s runoff ballot, received 53% of the vote.

In open statewide seats, Kim David beat Todd Thomsen in the Republican runoff for corporation commissioner; Ryan Walters beat April Grace in the Republican runoff for state superintendent; and Todd Russ beat Clark Jolley in the Republican runoff for state treasurer. 

Stitt backed Roberts, who lost Republican runoff

Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn speaks at the state Capitol during her time as a state representative. OKLAHOMAN FILE

While Stitt had endorsed Walters and David, the labor commissioner race showed the limits of the governor’s coattails. 

In addition to his endorsement, Turnaround Team PAC, a political action committee with ties to the governor, also donated $6,500 to Roberts.

It’s rare for a governor to endorse a challenger against a lawmaker in their own party but Osborn has rankled Republican leaders before. 

In 2017, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, removed Osborn as chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, after she had defended the Department of Human Services against statements McCall made about its budget. 

During her time in the state House, Osborn also advocated for raising taxes to better fund core state services, a position that put her at odds with the anti-tax base of her party. 

“Some believed that I went too far, that calling for revenue increases — even though it was never back to the point of where we started — made me a bad Republican,” Osborn said in 2018 during an interview on national radio. “I personally like to believe that it made me a good Oklahoman, because if you invest in your future — your children, classroom sizes, teacher salaries, mental health funding, prison programming — those small buckets of money you invest in targeted areas pay off exponentially in lives and dollars down the road.” 

Roberts regularly accused Osborn of not being a true conservative and built much of his campaign on social issues that have little connection to the commissioner’s duties. 

The labor commissioner oversees the Oklahoma Department of Labor, which is in charge of ensuring workplace safety and protecting the welfare of workers. The agency is responsible for inspecting everything from elevators to amusement park rides, in addition to overseeing the state’s worker’s compensation programs.

Osborn said her focus has been reforming state occupational licenses, which she plans to continue if elected to another four-year term. 

She cited a new program that is working with Oklahoma City schools to reinstate shop classes that can funnel students to vocational careers.

“It’s a really neat program that’s going to make a difference,” Osborn said.

Osborn will face Libertarian Will Daugherty and Democrat Jack Henderson on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.