Senator Tom Coburn announces retirement
Sad news for conservatives, as Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has announced he will retire at the end of the current congressional session, two years before his second term in the Senate will end. Coburn has been battling prostate cancer, and is said to have been privately warning reporters and colleagues that his health problems could interfere with his Senate duties, but according to a statement reprinted by The Oklahoman, that’s not the immediate reason for his early retirement:
“Serving as Oklahoma’s senator has been, and continues to be, one of the great privileges and blessings of my life. But, after much prayer and consideration, I have decided that I will leave my Senate seat at the end of this Congress.
“Carolyn and I have been touched by the encouragement we’ve received from people across the state regarding my latest battle against cancer. But this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires. My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms. Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career. That’s how I saw it when I first ran for office in 1994, and that’s how I still see it today. I believe it’s important to live under the laws I helped write, and even those I fought hard to block.
“As a citizen legislator, I am first and foremost a citizen who cares deeply about the kind of country we leave our children and grandchildren. As I have traveled across Oklahoma and our nation these past nine years, I have yet to meet a parent or grandparent who wouldn’t do anything within their power to secure the future for the next generation. That’s why I initially ran for office in 1994 and re-entered politics in 2004. I’m encouraged there are thousands of Americans with real-world experience and good judgment who feel just like I do. As dysfunctional as Washington is these days, change is still possible when ‘We the People’ get engaged, run for office themselves or make their voices heard. After all, how else could a country doctor from Muskogee with no political experience make it to Washington?
“As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere. In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong. I intend to continue our fight for Oklahoma, and will do everything in my power to force the Senate to re-embrace its heritage of debate, deliberation and consensus as we face our many challenges ahead.
“May God bless you, our state and our country.”
His personal struggle with the decision to retire was apparently resolved rather suddenly, as Politico reports he told his aides about his decision “earlier in the day” on Thursday, but his spokesman still denied that he was planning to leave the Senate as of Thursday evening.
The Oklahoman looks at the political situation in the wake of Coburn’s announcement:
Coburn’s decision could set off a major scramble among Republicans hoping to replace him. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City; and Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, will likely consider the race, along with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
Coburn timed his resignation so his replacement could be elected during the regular ballot process this year. It will be a very compressed time frame for a statewide race, particularly for those who don’t have statewide name recognition.
Both U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot in Oklahoma; U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is running for reelection.
Coburn had a remarkable political career, serving three terms in the House and relinquishing his seat due to self-imposed term limits before running for the Senate. He’s one of our pre-eminent critics of government waste, publishing the epic Wastebook every year to bring Americans up to speed on the billions of dollars our federal government plows into dubious, sometimes straight-up insane spending programs. When you hear Big Government types insisting there isn’t a penny to cut from the bloated federal budget, it helps to have the latest edition of the Wastebook close to hand. Hopefully another senator will take up the task of producing it, if the 2014 edition will be the last assembled under Coburn’s stewardship.
The Washington Post says that “for most of the past 20 years, Coburn has represented the ideological moral high ground for conservatives.”
Believing in the role of a “citizen legislator,” he imposed a three-term limit on his House service, and unlike many of his fellow classmates from the 1994 elections, he lived up to his pledge and left Congress after the 2000 elections.
After Sen. Don Nickles announced his retirement in 2004, Coburn won that seat while pledging to serve just two six-year terms. In his first term he was pretty clearly the most conservative member of the Senate, quickly learning how to use the arcane parliamentary procedures to his advantage in order to block legislation that he deemed wasteful no matter how popular it was with his colleagues. By his own estimate he saved the federal government billions of dollars in new government programs — many of which would have passed with 90 votes or more.
A family doctor who has delivered thousands of babies and once counseled congressional interns on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, he acquired the nickname “Dr. No.”
Now, more than ever, we need Dr. No. Congress needs a whole hospital wing full of them.
Coburn’s relationship with fiscal conservatives was not without a few bumps:
Yet by 2011, after winning reelection to his final six-year term, Coburn found himself surrounded by many other self-proclaimed tea party conservatives. His appreciation for wing men in the conservative crusade was quickly followed by a disdain he felt toward what he considered their unwillingness to learn the Senate’s procedures inside out.
Some saw a moderation in Coburn as he negotiated with a bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators in 2011 over a potentially massive $4 trillion debt package that would include major tax increases, prompting some outside conservative groups to question his loyalty to the cause.
The group’s failure, and subsequent implosions of other bipartisan efforts at debt deals, turned Coburn into more openly dour legislator.
Fox News has a response to Coburn’s retirement from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called him “one of the most intelligent, principled, and decent men in modern Senate history.”
“Tom is a legend in his own time, an extraordinary man and a deeply serious lawmaker who has made an immense difference to his country and to this body. We will miss him terribly when he leaves the Senate, and we will stand with him every step of the way as he wages this latest of many tough battles that he has fought, and won,” said McConnell. He also declared that “when it comes to the transcendent debate over the size and cost of government, Tom Coburn is simply without peer.”