WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Coburn, who has spent a combined 15 years here rooting out government waste and warning about mounting U.S. debt, will resign after the current session of Congress, foregoing the final two years of his term.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer but said he wasn’t leaving early because of his health.
In a brief interview, Coburn said he wanted to focus on the next stage in his life.
“I’ve had a lot of changes in my life,’’ Coburn, 65, said. “This is another one.”
In a prepared statement, 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.”
Coburn’s decision could set off a major scramble among Republicans hoping to replace him. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City; and Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, will likely consider the race, along with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
Coburn timed his resignation so his replacement could be elected during the regular ballot process this year. It will be a very compressed time frame for a statewide race, particularly for those who don’t have statewide name recognition.
Both U.S. Senate seats will be on the ballot in Oklahoma; U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is running for reelection.
Coburn had limited himself to two terms in the Senate, so he would have been retiring in 2016.
A physician, Coburn won a U.S. House seat in 1994 and served until 2001, leaving because he had limited himself to three terms there.
He ran for the Senate in 2004, entering the race relatively late, but he still easily beat the Republican field and then defeated former U.S. Rep. Brad Carson in the general election.
Editor's note: You can read the entire text of Sen. Coburn's statement below.
“Serving as Oklahoma’s senator has been, and continues to be, one of the great privileges and blessings of my life. 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. 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.
“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. That’s why I initially ran for office in 1994 and re-entered politics in 2004. 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. 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.
“May God bless you, our state and our country.”