Mike Coffman: Soldier, Marine, Congressman

At a time in when, according to Congressional Quarterly, only 101 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have served in the military, it is heartening to learn that freshman Rep. Mike Coffman (R.-Colo.) has been a veteran of both the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps.

The young Coffman quit high school to enlist in the U.S. Army and rose to become a sergeant. After serving on active duty and as a reservist, he earned his high school diploma under an Army program and college degrees under the G.I. Bill. Coffman settled in Colorado, went into the property- management business and won election to the state house of representatives in 1990.

But Uncle Sam had not seen the last of Coffman. As a state legislator in 1991, he volunteered to return to active duty with the Marines (“I liked the Marine Corps’ conservative point of view”) for the first Gulf War. Discharged as a major three years later, Coffman won election to the state senate and, in 1998, won his first term as state treasurer. He later resigned the treasurer’s office to return to Iraq for assignment as a civil affairs officer — as a reactivated Marine, of course.

“So you could call me a career military man,” says Coffman, with a grin. Elected to the suburban Denver seat of retiring Republican Tom Tancredo last year, the 54-year-old Coffman serves on the House Armed Services Committee. There, he is in the forefront of debate over such hot-button national security issues as: troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, the F-22 fighter plane, and the defense budget.

For Iraq, a country where he has served two stints, the Coloradan believes a good dose of the free market would solve much of its internal problems. State-run enterprises based on patronage, Coffman told me, “are holdovers from the days of Baáthist socialism and that needs to change.” He has made this point to U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, Commanding Gen. Ray Odierno, and to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“And the administration should just be honest with the American people on Afghanistan,” says Coffman, insisting there will be more troops required than the administration is now saying are needed to complete the U.S. mission there. Again citing his own experience in Iraq, the freshman lawmaker noted that, “as a veteran, I can say that the troop surge there [Iraq] was the turning point and the surge is now allowing us to have phased withdrawal of troops. The administration could be making the same mistakes in Afghanistan they criticized the previous administration for in Iraq.”

But Coffman’s distrust of the Obama administration extends to issues beyond national security. Based on measures pushed by the White House such as cap and trade and the $787 billion stimulus package (both of which the Colorado lawmaker opposed), Coffman is very worried that “they are taking us down the road to a European-style social welfare state.” The goal of Republicans in Congress now is “to preserve the free market, nothing less.”

On this score, Coffman is optimistic. As he told me, “We had every Republican in Congress voting against that stimulus package. That stimulus vote was the best form of discipline for us. And we had 44 Democrats come over to us to oppose cap and trade. In order to get the votes they needed to pass it [which included those of eight Republicans] by 219 to 213, the White House really had to twist arms off. So even though Democrats control Congress, the pressure is on them and not on us.”

Any session with Mike Coffman usually goes on to other topics he’s interested in, and there are a number of them, like his visits as a private citizen to the Mexican border. (“The government isn’t interested in securing the border and that’s sad, with all the human and drug smuggling.”) But one thing is clear: Whatever the cause and subject in Congress, Mike Coffman is sure to have a straight-shooting opinion and it is a safe bet to say that he’s one conservative lawmaker who will be heard from and listened to for years to come.

This article is part of a HUMAN EVENTS series featuring newly elected conservatives in the House of Representatives.