Oklahoma Republican Party establishmentarians were jolted last week when former Rep. Tom Coburn, a conservative hero, announced he would seek the GOP nomination for the seat of retiring Sen. Don Nickles (R.-Okla.). Efforts by Nickles and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.) to guarantee the Republican Senate nomination to Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphrey did not sit well with the GOP grassroots.

Coburn, the one-time head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, kept his term-limit pledge to retire after three terms in 2000, but he also kept his hand in politics as a conservative activist, occasional talking head, and author of Breach of Trust–How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders. In his time in the House, Coburn consistently and aggressively fought government spending–while rankling party leaders who wanted to increase it. As a senator he would have far greater power to publicize and obstruct big government projects.