Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cathy Costello has barnstormed the state of Oklahoma since her summer announcement of candidacy for the position of Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor. She has integrated the campaign for office into continued advocacy for reforms in mental health policies, uplifting the memory of her late husband Mark, who was state Labor Commissioner from 2011-15.
She has events scheduled across the state as the holidays near.
Looking back to recent days, she spoke at a Congressional District 2 GOP meeting in Muskogee, and ventured into Okmulgee County to visit the Okmulgee Times and a cluster of local businesses.
On November 9, she was in Moore for an evening speech to the Oklahoma Conservative Assembly.
On November 7 she was at the Cleveland County Republican luncheon, at spoke to students at Oklahoma Christian University.
Recent “coffee” meet-and-greets were held in Ramona (with hosts John and DeAnna Kahre), Luther (hosts Tami DeLauzier and Angela Baustert), Tulsa (John & Lucia O’Connor). She also traveled to the far northeast, for meetings and gatherings in Miami. November 5 took her to Kingfisher for a Turkey Dinner at the parish of Saints Peter and Paul, then a journey to Atoka for small business visits on November 5.
Back on November 2, Costello attended the “Esther Women” luncheon at Oklahoma City’s St. Luke’s Methodist Church. That same day began at the Sports Hall of Fame, attending the “Second Chance” Employer Breakfast.
The month of October included a well-received speech at the invitation of legislative leaders in the Garden State. On October 6, Costello spoke at the annual legislative breakfast in Orange, New Jersey. More than 400 attended the session, including former governors and many mental heal professioals. Costello shared her searing personal story a family’s journey through devastating loss, legislative work advancing the Mark Costello Assisted Outpatient Legislation, and involvement with national reform efforts.
The importance of mental health and safety in the workplace have been a hallmark of Mrs. Costello’s campaign to this point, an extension of the work she began after her husband was murdered at the hands of their mentally-ill son.
Her prepared remarks in New Jersey, shared with this reporter, included these reflections:
“Being productive is an essential part of who we are as human beings. Work brings self-esteem and dignity to each one of us. Mental illness can be a roadblock when it comes to employment. “Mark and I watched our son struggle to stay employed due to his mental illness. But when our son was taking his medication, he was able to hold a job. This gave him so much pride and a sense of self-worth. The result was that he was more apt to continue taking his medication, see his doctor, go to therapy and support groups like NAMI – National Alliance on Mental illness, engage in relationships and spend time with his family. His life was more satisfying and he was happier.
“This led me to study the impact of mental health on the workforce, as 1 in 4 Oklahomans as well as 1 in 4 Americans suffers with some type of mental health disorder often complicated by drug and alcohol abuse. The reality is that the number one reason for low productivity in the workplace is due to mental illness, is the second leading reason for absenteeism and accounts for 30 percent of disability costs.
“Our son was frequently non-compliant with his medication which caused terrible complications in his life. He would frequently ask us after a psychotic episode to please help him stay on his medication. Mark and I were frustrated because we had no help or assistance in helping our ill son stay on a treatment program especially because he was over 18.
“The ultimate nightmare occurred on August 23, 2015. We had taken our son to dinner at a local restaurant. He announced to us early on during our meal that he had quit taking his medication. We knew from past experience how devastating this could be. During a paranoid, psychotic break, our son inexplicably stabbed his father to death. Mark died in my arms. During the weeks to follow I kept thinking about how we were unable to keep our son on his medication.
“Ten weeks after Mark‘s death, I testified before a Senate hearing committee in Oklahoma and was instrumental in unanimously passing the labor Commissioner Mark Costello AOT bill. AOT, which stands for assisted outpatient treatment, helps an individual, who meets the proper criteria, in an ongoing mental health crisis. I know in my heart that if this law had been in place in August of 2015, my husband would be alive and my son would’ve gotten the help he needed. “Our son was the poster child for the AOT bill because he had been in and out of the hospital and crisis centers five times in an 11 week period just 8 months before he killed his father.”
Also in October, in October Costello participated in NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) activities in Tulsa and at Edmond’s “Never Give Up Hope” gaterhing. Members of her “team” of campaigners were part of the annual Czech Parade in Yukon, and a Chickasaw tribal event in Tishomino. She went to the “Bradley Breakfast,” along with Department of Corrections Director Joe Albaugh. Costello has noted that job opportunities are a top-rated factor in avoiding recidivism.
Costello and supporters were a visible presence at the Oklahoma State University homecoming, then headed to Ada and the Fitzhugh community.
On October 20, she participated in the Oilfield Prayer Breakfast, then headed the next day to the annual Liberty Gala, hosted in Tulsa by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where syndicated columnist Dennis Prager was the keynote speaker. Costello’s travels took her to Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, for a visit with President Sean Burrage. A “meet and greet” coffee hosted in Kingfisher, by Christine Reid and Annenda Reynolds sustained her grass roots outreach, then she headed to Stephens County for the annual GOP chili cookoff. She then paid a visit to Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation.
Costello has loaned her campaign $275,000, according to campaign finance reports through late September, but her coffers have been recently supplemented at home-based and other gatherings of supporters.