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In Memoriam: Senator Tom Coburn, More Than Dr. No

Tom Coburn
In a twist of irony not lost on many of his conservative friends, Senator Tom Coburn, the last great budget hawk in the Republican Party, passed away on the same day the extraordinary $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill became law.

No doubt Senator Coburn, a physician who delivered over 4,000 babies in his adopted hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma would have had much to say about how Congress was responding to the coronavirus epidemic, from both the medical and public policy perspectives.

In 1994 Dr. Coburn ran for and won a seat in Congress, the first Republican to represent that district since the 1920s. As Jamison Fought writing for put it, “Dr. Coburn hit the United States House of Representatives like an Oklahoma tornado, tearing into wasteful spending with an unprecedented ferocity. His focus on attacking legislation congressional pork barrel spending and wasteful appropriations gave him the moniker 'Dr. No'. He was a ‘Tea Party radical’ fifteen years before the movement emerged.”

Coburn was a signer of the “three terms and out” term limits and he was one of the unusual few who actually made good on his promise and left the House of Representatives after three terms, and like Cincinnatus returning to his plow after saving Rome, Dr. Coburn returned to Oklahoma and resumed his medical practice.

Fortunately, public service called him back to Washington, this time to serve as Oklahoma’s junior Senator.

While serving in the Senate Dr. Coburn’s use of the Senate hold on pork-barrel spending was legendary and record-breaking, angering both Democrats and Republicans. However, the publication of his “Waste Book” and his public shaming of pork barrel spenders contributed mightily to the end of congressional earmarking.

While Dr. Coburn’s long battle against pork barrel spending and the accumulation of our ruinous national debt made him persona non grata in the plush bars and swank restaurants of Washington’s K Street lobbyist hangouts, conservatives remember him for two other things; his steadfast Christian faith and his unrelenting opposition to abortion.

When it comes to national politics, wrote Steven Ertelt of, there are elected officials who vote pro-life and do the right thing. Then there are lawmakers who actively carry the banner and lead the charge to protect unborn babies from the travesty of abortion. That was Tom Coburn, who frequently sponsored legislation and amendments to stop abortions and protect Americans from having to fund abortions.

While Dr. Coburn may have left the Senate after a recurrence of cancer, that was not the end of his public service.

“This decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires,” he said when announcing his resignation. “As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”

One such effort was in support of the effort to call a Constitutional Convention in an attempt to dramatically restrict the powers of the federal government.

“We’re in a battle for the future of our country,” Coburn told the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in New Orleans in August 2018. “We’re either going to become a socialist, Marxist country like western Europe, or we’re going to be free. As far as me and my family and my guns, I’m going to be free.”

Sen. James Lankford, the pro-life Republican who succeeded Coburn, remembered him this way, “Dr. Coburn will be remembered by many around the country for his work in Congress, but in Oklahoma, he will be remembered as a physician, a Sunday School teacher, and a mentor.”

Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) also released a statement about the pro-life champion: “Tom Coburn was a special, special man. He was a Christian and a father and a husband, and all of those identities were much more important to him than where he got his paycheck. And even among his day jobs, everyone who knew him knew that politics was, at best, second for ‘Doctor Coburn’ — a guy from Oklahoma who helped women deliver babies. He will be sorely missed in lots of different communities, but he is home.”

"Because of his strong faith, he rested in the hope found in John chapter 11 verse 25 where Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, will live, even though they die.' Today he lives in heaven," his family said in a statement to the Oklahoman.

As Dr. Tom Coburn, physician, Representative, Senator, patriot and Christian gentleman today lives in heaven, so too will he live in our hearts and memories as an example of how best to live and govern.

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