Senator Tom Coburn’s Very Large Shoes

coburnSenator Tom Coburn has announced he is resigning from the Senate at the end of the year and will not be completing the last two years of his second term as a Senator.  He has been battling cancer, but said that was not the reason for leaving early.  He said in a statement that he wanted to focus on the next stage in his life.  Last November Coburn said he would leave office early if he thought that he and his staff would not be able to do anything “that will change what’s coming for this country.”  Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership in the Senate continually blocked Coburn and other Republican Senators from offering amendments to bills and apparently, he has decided he has had enough.  His resignation is sure to set off a scramble among Oklahoma Republicans to see will be elected to replace him. 

I remember in 1994 when Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America ushered in new leadership in the House as the Republicans took control for the first time in four decades.  Dr. Coburn was part of that, being elected as a Representative after being recruited to run by Senator Jim Inhofe.  He was the first Republican elected from Oklahoma’s 2nd District since 1921.  Almost as soon as he hit Washington, D.C., Coburn began making waves, even with Republican leadership, because of his views on fiscal responsibility.  He and then Speaker Gingrich clashed over Coburn’s opinion that the Republicans were moving away from the conservative ideals that they all ran on with the Contract With America.  Coburn spent six years in the House, fulfilling a pledge that he would limit himself to three terms, if elected.  While there he had an important role in reforming welfare and other entitlement programs.

After a break from politics he was elected to be Oklahoma’s junior Senator in 2004 and he has spent the last ten years being a thorn in the side of the Democrats and also the establishment Republicans who care nothing for fiscal conservatism or a responsible federal budget.  Unfortunately, that seems to be most of them.  I cannot help but think that fighting the leadership in his own party as well as the Democrats made his decision to leave early an even easier one to make.  Senator Coburn’s well deserved reputation as a pork buster did not earn him any friends, even here in Oklahoma.  When tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma in May of 2013, Coburn said that any federal funds given to Oklahoma for disaster relief should be offset by cuts to other federal spending.  The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank once said of Coburn that he is “like an imam at a pig roast.  He sees pork everywhere and he doesn’t like it.” 

One of the more admirable things about Coburn, I believe, is something not commonly known about him outside of Oklahoma.  His strong belief in being a “citizen-legislator” led him to continue his medial practice in Muskogee even after being elected to Congress.  During his six years in the House he would commute back and forth to Washington and continued to deliver babies.  He has said he strongly believes the Founding Fathers never intended for people to make careers of being politicians and that lawmakers should retain ties to their communities.  Due to House rules against outside incomes, the House Ethics Committee went after him for continuing to deliver babies.  He eventually made a deal with them where he would keep his practice open but make no financial profit from it.  After being elected to the Senate it started again with the Senate Ethics Committee, who demanded Coburn stop delivering babies, even though he was doing it at no cost.  That the Ethics Committee is under the control of pro-abortion Democrats, I’m sure has nothing to do with this demand.  Coburn’s spokesman, John Hart, noted that there have been many stories about lawmakers, their friends or family members profiting from earmarks but that “no one has ever chosen to have Dr. Coburn deliver her baby in order to sway his vote.”  Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, said there is definitely some hypocrisy involved.  He said the pro-abortion Senators who were targeting Coburn wouldn’t have said a word if he had been doing abortions for free for Planned Parenthood.  Eventually, the pro-abortionists won and Coburn stopped delivering babies.  Hart said, “They wouldn’t let him cover his costs so he essentially decided he couldn’t go on paying malpractice insurance costs out-of-pocket.  They said it was inappropriate for him to provide free health care to his community.” 

I cannot recall in my lifetime a Congressman and Senator, from any state, who took the responsibility of his elected office more seriously that did Dr. Coburn.  A “citizen-legislator” who sought to spend the people’s money wisely, responsibly and conservatively would most certainly face strong opposition from his own party, in addition to the Democrats.  Fighting to keep his practice open and provide medical care to Oklahomans strongly demonstrates that he had no intention of doing what many politicians do and make a career of being elected.  Even some of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation are as guilty as sin of doing that. Frank “20 years” Lucas comes to mind.   Dr. Coburn set the bar so high I do not believe there will be another like him.  His decision to leave the Senate has probably launched many parties in Congressional offices, celebrating his departure. 

I have already read several articles speculating as to who might be throwing their names into the race.  Rep. Tom Cole, Rep. James Lankford, Attorney General Scott Pruit and Rep. Jim Bridenstine have all been mentioned.  Please, anybody but Tom “RINO” Cole.  What will make the race interesting is that whoever runs for Dr. Coburn’s seat will have to give up their reelection to the House.  This will definitely be an interesting race to watch. 

Whoever Oklahoma’s next Senator may be, that person would do well to follow the many examples set by Dr. Tom Coburn.  And they will have their work cut out for them.  As an Oklahoman, a lawmaker and a private citizen, Dr. Coburn will be leaving some very, very large shoes to fill.

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8 comments to Senator Tom Coburn’s Very Large Shoes

  • LD Jackson

    It’s going to be interesting to watch this race. Lankford is already in and he seems to be well positioned for the run. He is, however, facing opposition from some of the more conservative groups. It is possible that T.W. Shannon will be entering the race, which could shake things up a bit.

    I tend to agree with your assessment of Tom Coburn. He has made a major impact in the Senate and his shoes will be very hard to fill.

    • I’ve seen Lankford’s voting record and he would not be my first choice, but I believe he’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to defeat. His popularity and social media presence give him a definite edge. I’m not completely clear on the filing rules but I would hate to think Shannon and perhaps one or two others could run for the Senate, lose to Lankford, and then be out of their current offices as well.

      • LD Jackson

        I’m not clear on that either. My first inclination is to want Shannon or Bridenstine in Coburn’s seat. Given Lankford’s popularity, that may not be in the cards. I still have not heard if either of them will get into the race.

        • Bridenstine would be my first choice. He’s much more of a true conservative than Lankford. But, I don’t believe he would prevail over Lankford in the primary. I think he’s better off staying in the House, then run for Inhofe’s seat in 2020. And I’d rather see Shannon stay as the Speaker. I think he’s much more effective there and we need a conservative leader in that position. I don’t think he would prevail over Lankford either. Basically I’d say this is Lankford’s election to lose. I’d even go so far as to say he’ll take more than 50% in the primary and there won’t even be a need for a runoff.

          • LD Jackson

            I would tend to agree.

            My feeling about T.W. Shannon is that he is meant for something big. He has been establishing his conservative credentials and that will only mean better things for him in the future.

            • I absolutely agree, but I don’t feel this is the time for him to make a move. I’d like to see him run for Governor in 2018. I’m sure Todd Lamb will run, but I don’t know a thing about his record or his positions on issues. Imagine Governor Shannon, black Republican… wouldn’t it just drive the Dems insane.

              • LD Jackson

                That would drive the Democrats out of their minds. They wouldn’t know how to respond, other than to attack him for some perceived violation of the black code.

  • The Successor To Tom Coburn

    […] OK Politechs – I cannot recall in my lifetime a Congressman and Senator, from any state, who took the responsibility of his elected office more seriously that did Dr. Coburn.  A “citizen-legislator” who sought to spend the people’s money wisely, responsibly and conservatively would most certainly face strong opposition from his own party, in addition to the Democrats.  Fighting to keep his practice open and provide medical care to Oklahomans strongly demonstrates that he had no intention of doing what many politicians do and make a career of being elected.  Even some of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation are as guilty as sin of doing that. Frank “20 years” Lucas comes to mind.   Dr. Coburn set the bar so high I do not believe there will be another like him.  His decision to leave the Senate has probably launched many parties in Congressional offices, celebrating his departure. […]

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