Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Budget Conscious Maverick On The Move

USA Today reports:

Around his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma's new senator is best known for delivering more than 3,000 little Okies as a family doctor.

But in Washington, Tom Coburn's former colleagues in the House of Representatives remember a maverick conservative who in 1999 almost single-handedly forced Congress to cut nearly $1 billion in spending. The Republican vows to be just as tight with taxpayers' money when he returns to Capitol Hill as a senator in January.

Coburn, 56, earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from Oklahoma State University and worked in his family's optical business for almost a decade. When the business was sold, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma Medical School and, at age 35, became a doctor.

It's not clear whether Coburn will continue to practice one day a week, as he did while in the House, after he replaces retiring 24-year Republican Sen. Don Nickles.

Coburn initially wasn't interested in running for the Senate seat. He had just survived colon cancer and had left Washington in 2001 after a self-imposed limit of three terms in the House. Brad Carson, the Democrat he defeated Tuesday, replaced him in Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District.

But then conservatives, including the anti-tax Club for Growth, urged him to oppose former Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys in the GOP primary. Humphreys was the choice of party leaders. Coburn couldn't resist sticking it to the establishment and ran. To the dismay of many Republicans, he won.

Coburn then bested Carson, 37, by painting the moderate Democrat as a liberal who would align himself in the Senate with Edward Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Conservative Oklahomans opted for Coburn, a budget hawk who still talks about the need for a balanced budget, even if many of his fellow Republicans don't. He also appealed to religious conservatives with his stands against abortion and gay marriage.

But Coburn's candidacy was almost sunk by controversies of his own making.

He caused a stir when he said he favored the death penalty for "abortionists and other people who take life." He called the race with Carson a choice between "good and evil." Most damaging, he was forced to respond when reports surfaced about an old lawsuit against him by a woman who said he sterilized her without written permission.

Coburn and his wife, Carolyn, have three children.