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.
Coburn is one of those short-sighted, fiscally-conservative, solidly-votes-with-his-fellow-Republicans-overwhelmingly kind of guy who goes to Congress to not vote. Whether it's a Defense Authorization Act, or for hydroelectric plants around the nation, or for cleaning up the nation's water supply (or locating new sources for water), Coburn takes the "not voting" route about 10% of the time. Even on legislation that has negligible financial impact, such as H CON RES 282 (Declaring the “Person of the Century” for the 20th Century to Have Been the American G.I.) and H R 3591, which would have provided for the award of a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to former President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy Reagan "in recognition of their service to the nation."
Some of Coburn's "not voting" calls into question his committment to his alternative profession, medicine. I mean, how can a physician not vote on H CON RES 76: Recognizing the Social Problem of Child Abuse and Neglect, and Supporting Efforts to Enhance Public Awareness of It, H CON RES 247: Expressing the Sense of Congress Regarding the Importance of Organ, Tissue, Bone Marrow, and Blood Donation and Supporting National Donor Day, S 632: Poison Control Center Enhancement and Awarenesss Act. How does a man who runs as a "good Christian" justify not voting at all on H R 2130: Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Prevention Drug Act of 1999, or H RES 423: War on Drugs to Protect Children, or H CON RES 107: Expressing the Sense of Congress Concerning the Sexual Relationships Between Adults and Children?
According to Project Vote Smart, Coburn rates 100% with the National Right to Life Committee, 0% with Planned Parenthood, high with business groups and low with human rights groups. The Christian Coalition gives him 100%, the National PTA gives him 14%. On environmental issues, the League of Conservation Voters gives him 13%, and American Land Rights organization loves him with 93%.