‘Truth North’ – Oklahomans comment on the death of State Labor Commissioner Mark Costello

Oklahoma City – On behalf of her family, on Monday afternoon (August 24), Cathy Costello – wife of Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello – issued a statement concerning his death:

“There are no words to express the shock and sadness that our family has experienced the last number of hours. The outpouring of emotion and support our family feels is tremendous.

“Our son, Christian Costello, has experienced many difficulties over the past several years. Christian, like thousands of Oklahoman’s, struggles with a mental health disease and like many families we did our best to support him. Mark was committed to being there for his son and provided whatever help he could as a father.

“We ask for your prayers and support as our family tries to cope with and understand this life-changing tragedy.

“Mark loved to brag about his kids and their successes, but like many in the public eye, he also viewed his family life as personal.

“We ask that you respect our family’s privacy as we work through this very difficult time and please understand that our family will struggle with this for years to come as we try and find answers.”

Christian Costello killed his father Sunday night. He is under arrest and charges are expected soon.

Throughout the day after Commissioner Costello was killed, a cascade of positive comments emerged, most reflecting both on his ardently-expressed conservative policy preferences, and his pure joy in the battle of ideas. Along with many personal reflections, leaders and grass roots activists alike said they were praying for comfort for the slain leader’s family.

The first statement of remorse this reporter received, on Sunday evening, came from U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. Lankford said, “My family is stunned and deeply grieved to hear of the tragic death of Labor Commissioner Mark Costello. Mark was passionate about our nation, conservative fiscal principles, and the people of our state.”

Monday afternoon, Gov. Mary Fallin ordered flags at state facilities to fly at half-mast through week’s end. And, Fallin said in a statement, “I was shocked and greatly saddened to hear of Labor Commissioner Mark Costello’s tragic death last night. My prayers and deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and staff. Oklahoma has lost a dedicated public servant and a good man.”

Three of Costello’s fellow statewide elected officials issued prepared statements detailing respect for their colleague.

Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones reflected, “I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mark a long time. His leadership and statesmanship will be missed. Mary Jane and I grieve with his family as we all mourn his loss and celebrate his life. Mark was a tremendously dedicated public servant and an honorable man.”

Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy said she was “shocked and grief-stricken at the death of my friend. … He was a man of honor, courage, and principle as well as a faithful, supportive, generous, and helpful husband, father, friend and public servant who was passionate about Oklahoma and its people.”

Attorney General Scott Pruitt reflected on Costello’s joy in debate and discussion, as did others in the 24 hours after Costello’s death: “I will miss his infectious enthusiasm for truth and genuine passion for liberty.”

Leading Democrats at the state Capitol joined the chorus of mourners.

State Senate Minority leader John Sparks, D-Norman, said Commissioner Costello “was a kind, generous man. He had a heart for public service and a sincere desire to institute good public policy.” Sparks said the days ahead would be an “extremely difficult time.”

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said the slain conservative “will be missed at the Capitol. He was a man of conviction and clear purpose who loved to engage in discussions about ideas and policies intended to move Oklahoma forward. I considered Mark a friend and am simply stunned by the senselessness of this tragedy.”

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said Costello’s murder left him “shocked and saddened.”

Speaker of the House Jeffrey Hickman, R-Fairview, reflected on Costello’s “happy warrior” personality: “He was always passionate about what he believed to be the right thing for our state but he also approached these issues with a smile on his face and a sense of humor. What I most admired about him was the respect he would show to those who might disagree with him on an issue, not making it personal and looking for ways to work together on different issues in the future. 

Sadly, that is a trait becoming more rare in politics.

“Mark had a successful career in the private sector but was willing to give back to our state through his public service in recent years. His dedication to bringing the conservative principles of many hard working Oklahoman’s to state government is appreciated, it made a difference, and it will not be forgotten.”

Echoing their leader’s perspective were two members of the House GOP Caucus. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, said Costello “was an outstanding public servant, and he a great personal friend to members of our family – reaching back almost 45 years. His leadership led to many reforms that benefitted the working men and women of Oklahoma,” adding “his influence was not limited to his duties as Labor Commissioner.

Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, said Costello “was a great Labor Commissioner who didn’t just talk about limited government but accomplished it in his agency through cost savings, consolidation and fleet management. He was a champion for Oklahoma in our battle against administering union dues.”

“Oklahoma has lost a leader who had a unique passion for politics and took great pride in the work he did on behalf of all Oklahoman’s,” said Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “He was a model public servant, and we are all better for the example and legacy
he leaves behind.” 

Other notable leaders commenting on Costello’s shocking murder included two members of the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said he was “stunned and saddened. Mark’s death leaves a hole in the heart of our community. He was a proud Oklahoman, dedicated public servant, devoted husband and father and a dear friend to countless others.” Cole, like others, petitioned for “the Lord’s comfort” for Costello’s family and friends.

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell said he was praying for Costello’s widow and family: “We love them and ask for God’s special comfort.” 
The Sooner State’s social media sites abounded with expressions of dismay and sadness over the last day. 

Pam Pollard, a leader of the state Federation of Republican Women, commented, “Pam Pollard: Mark was a great example of a leader who worked in government, not for government.” Ronda Vuillemont-Smith of the conservative “Tulsa 9-12” project, stated, “We lost one of the good guys tonight.”

Several journalists sketched Costello’s merits as a “player” in the public arena since his first election in 2010. Steve Byas of The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper was succinct: “This is so horrible. We have lost a great man.”

David Arnett of the Tulsa Today news website called Costello, “a close personal friend and mentor. He spoke off the record many times of his love for his son and occasionally of the mental health difficulties Christian Costello suffered. The family had repeatedly offered reconciliation as their faith and hearts compelled.”

Arnett, in reflective comments, wrote, “Mark Costello was a friend to all. He stood boldly for responsible governance and as a conservative, put his principles successfully into play in the public policies of the Oklahoma Labor Department. I will miss Mark’s humor, wisdom, faithful fellowship, public insight and personal friendship.” 

One of the deans of conservative commentary, Mike McCarville, said the murdered leader “was chief among the good guys. I enjoyed conversations with him over lunch. He was a steadfast defender of the Constitution and rule of law. He was, genuinely, devoted to the public good. Our world is diminished by his loss.”

David van Risseghem, a pioneer in online journalism, posted updates and comments frequently at his “Sooner Politics” website. He hailed Costello’s “campaigning with style, levity, and friendliness. His radio jingle, his celebrity ‘Deficit’s too damn high’ appearances, Sacred Cow costumes, and other classic statements.”

Former state Rep. Fred Morgan, who now heads The State Chamber, said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations:

“Mark was a tireless champion for reforms that make Oklahoma a better place to live, work and run a business. From workers’ compensation reforms to school choice and fighting against government regulations, Mark was always supporting greater freedoms and liberty.”

Costello’s last rites will be held at St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond.

A Rosary prayer will take place Friday evening at, August 29 6:30 p.m.

The funeral Mass of Christian Burial will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 30.

Policy analysts at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs issued a joint statement, saying Costello “was a longtime friend to the staff, board and members of OCPA. … [W]e remember the life of not just a great public servant but also a great man.

“Mark was everywhere. If someone was trying to make their community better, get involved in the political process, or host a group committed to freedom, Mark was there, fully engaged in mind, body, and spirit. This loss will be felt by all Oklahoman’s in the days, weeks, and years to come.

“We are grateful to have known and been led by Mark Costello and remember him most for his keen sense of and commitment to True North.”