The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

January 17, 2014

Fiscal hawk: Retirement of respected Coburn starts Senate scramble

ENID, Okla. — U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, is retiring from his seat after the current session of Congress.

On Thursday, the 65-year-old senator made the announcement about two years before his term was due to end.

The conservative maverick pledged to serve no more than two six-year terms when elected to the Senate in 2004. In the House of Representatives, Coburn previously served the 2nd Congressional District from 1995 to 2001.

The licensed physician is battling cancer again, but Coburn said his decision wasn’t health-related.

We’re sad to be losing a true fiscal conservative. Coburn, a man of principle, was a leading fiscal hawk in Washington.

We appreciate Coburn’s candor and leadership. Thank you for many years of dedicated public service.

Coburn’s departure will leave 79-year-old Jim Inhofe as Oklahoma’s other U.S. senator.

The doctor’s retirement triggers a special election, with a June 24 primary and a potential Aug. 26 runoff to determine the GOP nominee and probable winner. (Oklahoma hasn’t had a Democratic senator since David L. Boren left two decades ago.)

Who will run for Coburn’s seat? This is pure speculation, but here are some possible — and unconfirmed — GOP candidates: U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore; Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City; and Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa; Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt; Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas; and T.W. Shannon, Oklahoma’s speaker of the House.

We’ll be interested to follow this important race. Name recognition and fundraising will be key, particularly with the truncated election cycle.

Coburn’s retirement may energize down-ticket Republicans eager to move up the ladder. Enid’s Mike Jackson could be on a short list of the most powerful politicians in the state.

If Cole foregoes his House re-election and wins the Senate seat, his former staffer Shannon is a natural option for the 4th Congressional District. Jackson, term-limited in 2016, holds the title of speaker pro tempore, the No. 2 position in the chamber.

Promotion to House speaker wouldn’t be automatic. The House Republican Caucus would meet in conclave to pick their next group of leaders. It would be up to Jackson — if he wants the job — to campaign for it among his peers.

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