OK Senate: Coburn to retire at year’s end due to cancer diagnosis

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who was recently diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer, announced on Thursday that he will retire at the end of 2014, cutting short his second and final term in office.

“Serving as Oklahoma’s senator has been, and continues to be, one of the great privileges and blessings of my life,” said Coburn in a press statement. “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,” he said. “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.”

Part of the 1994 Republican Revolution, Coburn, who made his living as an obstetrician, served for three terms in the House of Representatives (1995-2001), earning a reputation has a hardcore fiscal conservative who wasn’t always willing to go along with Republican leadership.

For example, in the book, Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, Stephen Slivinski noted that a small group of conservatives led by Coburn and Steve Largent (R-OK) frequently challenged then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and other Republican leaders on spending.

The Oklahoma senator has become notable for pushing measures to cut spending and highlighting waste in his annual Wastebook report, the most recent of which documented $30 billion in wasteful spending.

Coburn, who considers himself to be “citizen legislator,” successfully ran for the Senate in 2004, limiting himself to two terms in office. He won reelection in 2010, taking 71% of the vote. His second and final term was set to expire in 2017.

“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,” said Coburn. “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,” he continued. “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,” he added.

Coburn’s announcement means that there will likely be a special election this fall to serve the final two years of his term. Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK) doesn’t have the ability to appoint a placeholder or potential successor.

The Hill mentioned three House Republicans from the state who could jump in the special election — Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Tom Cole, James Lankford. Also mentioned was Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Per Roll Call, the special primary election to replace Coburn will be held on Tuesday, June 24. If needed a primary runoff will be held on August 26. The special general election will be held on Tuesday, November 4.

These dates keep with already scheduled elections in the state, meaning that no additional taxpayers dollars will be spent. Because, you know, this Coburn we’re talking about.

Whoever comes along to replace Coburn, they’ll have big shoes to fill. As noted, the Oklahoma Republican has been a strong fiscal conservative, holding lifetime score of 96% from the Club for Growth, 97% from Americans for Prosperity, and 89% from FreedomWorks. Since joining the Senate, Coburn has introduced $452.3 billion in net-spending cuts.


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