TIME Congress

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn Retiring From Congress

Citing health and other concerns, 'Dr. No' says no more

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) — the self-styled “country doctor from Muskogee” — will leave the Senate due to health and other concerns after serving out the remainder of the current session, he announced in a statement Thursday.

A former member of the House of Representatives, Coburn has served in the Senate since 2005. He was re-elected for a second term in 2010, but said he would not run for a third. Some observers believed that he would, but his battle with cancer — as well as his commitment to being a “citizen-legislator” averse to making a career of politics — has put paid to those speculations.

A medical doctor by training, Coburn insisted on being called “Doctor Coburn” instead of “Senator Coburn.” But he also earned another nickname in Washington circles: “Dr. No,” a reference to a James Bond villain but also to his penchant for putting brakes on legislation. Coburn was also known for his annual Wastebook, which listed what he considered to be examples of profligate government spending.

Despite Coburn’s party affiliation, he and President Barack Obama struck up a warm friendship. “The people of Oklahoma are lucky to have someone like Tom representing them in Washington — someone who speaks his mind, sticks to his principles and is committed to the people he was elected to serve,” Obama wrote of Coburn for the 2013 TIME 100.

Coburn’s statement on his retirement plans in full:

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released the following statement announcing his decision to give up his Senate seat at the end of this Congress:

“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.

“My God bless you, our state and our country.”

Jay Newton-Small and Zeke J. Miller contributed to this report

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