Coburn to retire at end of 2014

There’s not much to say about the latest retirement announcement from Congress, except for how sorry most of will be — or should be — to see Senator Tom Coburn leave. The junior Senator from Oklahoma has been fighting cancer for a while, and hoped to remain healthy enough finish up his second term, which he had long said would be his last anyway. Instead, he’ll cut it two years short:

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn confirmed Thursday night that he will not serve out his full Senate term and intends to step down after 2014 because of deepening health problems.

In a statement, Coburn acknowledged that he is battling a serious recurrence of cancer and said he would continue to fight for his priorities during the remainder of his time in office.

“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,” Coburn said. “As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”

Coburn first came to Washington in the Republican “revolution” of 1994, part of the conservative reform effort that pledged to impose term limits on Congress. Instead, he imposed it on himself, serving three terms in the House before going back to his practice as a physician in Oklahoma. He returned in a surprise dark-horse Senate bid in 2004, again promising to self-limit his tenure to two terms. Throughout his career, he focused on fiscal policy and budget deficits, trying to push the federal government away from ruinous debt and especially the ObamaCare folly.

What comes next? A special election, but not in this cycle, as Coburn pledged to hold his seat until the next session of Congress begins in 2015:

Coburn’s resignation means there will be a special election held next year to fill out the remainder of his term. Republicans are heavily favored to hold onto his seat in a deeply conservative state. Oklahoma is also one of several states that prohibits governors from appointing a placeholder senator, so there will be a vacancy after his resignation until the special election is held.

The special election will need to take place relatively quickly, so it won’t leave anyone at a true disadvantage for very long, if at all. If Republicans hold only 50 seats after the midterm elections, Democrats would still control the chamber (thanks to Vice President Joe Biden’s vote), so a drop to 49 for a few months won’t make a difference. If the GOP gets to 51, Democrats will only have 49, and the GOP would still control even if it became 50-49.

Fortunately, Coburn will stick around this year and keep pushing his fiscal-conservative policy agenda. Let’s hope people pay attention in 2014.

Update: Actually, as Adam Bonin and Aaron Blake explain, the “special” election could be in November, even if Coburn wants to serve out the full current session.  It just depends on when Coburn tenders his official letter of resignation:

As election lawyer Adam Bonin notes, Coburn can issue his resignation date early, apparently allowing Fallin to set the election before he resigns and potentially for the same day as the 2014 general election. In that case, Coburn’s resignation date would be binding.

Given Coburn’s penchant for saving taxpayer’s money, it would seem a good bet he would do what he can to avoid the cost of holding a separate special election.


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