Oklahoma is one of three
states where the Commissioner of Labor is elected. The position is among
the eight statewide non-federal positions voters will consider in the
November 2 election.
After the agency functioned as an extension of the state’s labor unions
for most of its history, in 1994 Brenda Reneau of Fort Gibson, a
Republican who had served as an executive with the “open shop”
Associated Builders and Contractors, was elected. She held the job for
three terms, the first woman (and only Republican) ever elected to the
In the Democratic surge of 2006, Reneau lost the closest statewide election, to former state Rep. Lloyd Fields, who is seeking reelection this year.
In the 2010 campaign, businessman Mark Costello,
the Republican nominee, is leading in public opinion surveys. He has a
huge spending advantage over the incumbent. Reneau supported Oklahoma
City attorney Jason Reese in the GOP primary, and has remained silent since then.
In a recent interview, Reneau told CapitolBeatOK she had “cordial”
conversations with Costello earlier this year. However, she asked him
about “scuttlebutt” in Republican circles indicating that Jim Marshall, a
former aide, was in charge of the Costello campaign.
In reply, Reneau said Costello told her Marshall was “a good friend” but
was not playing a role in his campaign, save as a personal advisor.
Marshall left the Labor Department during Reneau’s tenure, and later
went to work for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart. Marshall
also is an ally of Randy Terrill, now a controversial Republican state
representative embroiled in a corruption investigation by the Oklahoma
County District Attorney. Terrill supported Fields in the 2006 campaign.
Reneau is concerned that Marshall’s return to the agency could
negatively effect morale and further erode what she calls “the important
Separately from Reneau, CapitolBeatOK asked Costello last spring about
Marshall’s rumored involvement. Costello said Marshall had no daily role
in the campaign.
However, CapitolBeatOK has learned that one of the most respected and
experienced radio advertising brokers in the state was ousted from the
Costello campaign this summer – and that the message was delivered by
Jim Marshall, on Costello’s behalf.
Jon Nickens’ credentials in Oklahoma media advertising are unassailable.
His first client was the late, great Henry Bellmon, long-time U.S.
Senator and twice governor of the state.
Nickens worked for Don Nickles three times, and the same for J.C. Watts
and Frank Lucas. Frank Keating twice had the benefit of Nickens’
fact-driven but intuitive approach to radio “buys.” Other clients have
included Jim Inhofe and occasionally leading Democrats, including former
U.S. Rep. Glenn English, and the late Mike Synar.
Nickens told CapitolBeatOK, “My reputation in serving the client is the
most important thing to me. I get my clients radio interviews and ask
for the best placement of ads on each station. Since I send the stations
their money, unlike other networks, they respond to my request.”
For purposes of this report, however, Nickens’ best credential might be
his proven ability to make deft radio ad purchases for former Labor
Commissioner Reneau, who used him in her campaigns. Nickens was also
mastermind of radio strategies for the late 1990s drive promoting right
to work, which passed as a state constitutional amendment in 2001.
CapitolBeatOK has learned that in his conversations with Reneau and this
writer, Costello understated Marshall’s role in his campaign.
In interviews and a written description, Nickens described in some
detail his relations with Costello, and Marshall’s role as campaign
manager in all but name.
“In March of this year, I was contacted by Jim Marshall to put together a
buy for Mark Costello.” As Nickens explained, that’s “the Jim
Marshall, of the Rinehart and Tim Pope group. As a matter of fact, Tim
Pope, before his death, convinced Mark to seek the post of Labor
Rinehart, the former county commissioner, and Pope, a former state
representative who opposed Reneau in the 2002 Republican primaries, were
both subjects of investigations for violation of state laws.
Costello, working with Marshall, engaged Nickens to arrange his radio
advertising purchases. At the campaign’s request, Nickens says he
“contracted a friend to produce the ad. Mr. Costello wanted a second
voice on the ad but did not want Jim Marshall’s voice. He was concerned
that the stigma of Marshall would be a hindrance to his campaign.”
Nickens “contracted Gary Owens to be the second voice. I paid, out of my
pocket, $100 for the talent. I told Mark that that was my donation to
the campaign. I am sure this was not listed in his campaign donations to
Then, Nickens ran “another schedule for Mark and was asked to put
together a very complex schedule that would coincide with his speeches.
After hours of work, this was cancelled and I was out of time and effort
and long distance calls.
“In the meantime, Jim Marshall told me that Mark had been contacted by
an ad agency, Beals and Cunningham, to produce TV and Print Ads. I asked
Jim if I was being replaced and was told in no way would he let that
But that was before things changed: “On July 8, Jim called and left a
message that I was to call him regarding an update. I was sure it was in
regards to the pending schedule that had been cancelled. Not! Jim
advised me that the agency had made a donation of $2,500 in return for
the radio account.”
Marshall was the one to deliver the farewell from the Costello campaign,
even though Marshall’s role was described by the candidate as “merely
advisory” and that of “a friend.”
Nickens told CapitolBeatOK that he had “never been released from a campaign.”
His conclusions are blunt, and not complimentary to the Republican: “In
my brief association with Mark Costello, I am convinced he asked for the
donation in return for the radio account.”