Personal Recollections of Dr. Tom Coburn

Dr. Tom Coburn died last Friday after a long bout with Cancer. There really are very few truly great men. But I consider Senator Dr. Tom Coburn right up there with the founding fathers in selfless service to his country.

I first met Dr. Coburn when he was a Congressman running for the U. S. Senate in Oklahoma.

I didn’t think much of him as Congressman, mainly because I thought he was “too heavenly bound to be any earthly good.” Unlike my model of a fine Congressman who brought home much needed infusion of federal dollars to his home district Dr. Coburn’s principles wouldn’t let him do that. He believed if roads needed to be built it was the job of County Commissioners and the Oklahoma state highway department, not the federal government. Earmarks were the mechanism Congressmen used to bring home the money from DC, whether the district needed it or not. Dr. Coburn thought that was just bad public policy.

But when I heard this brilliant and principled man on a debate stage I was all in; even though at the time I was supporting one of his opponents. I told him so after the meeting and, while we sometimes differed in philosophy, I never wavered in that support.

My biggest test with Senator Coburn was when Congress was debating ending the oil and gas tax provisions necessary to stimulate investing in a business that was “risky” but vital to our National security. I just knew no one was going to convince him how important these provisions were to Oklahoma and the nation. I was right. No one was.

While trying to figure out how to approach this task I was fortuitously seated on a plane going back to DC with Senator Coburn and had his undivided attention which allowed me to dive in and make my case. Tom’s powerful intellect didn’t suffer fools very long. Fortunately, it didn’t take that long. He was already familiar with the very complex tax law applying to the oil and gas industry. Tom was, in addition to being an accomplished physician and a fearless non-politician Senator, also a CPA. I then realized my angst was totally unnecessary. He simply understood and followed his own principles. Days afterward, when testifying in the Senate Finance Committee to the importance of those provisions, he gave the best, most succinct argument of the day for their retention.

But by far the most memorable encounter with Dr. Tom was during the 2008 Presidential cycle. We were both in Florida at a Club for Growth meeting. We got to the dining room early and just sat and visited until everyone came in. I asked him who we should support for President that year. There we seven or eight Republicans battling it out to get the nomination. He shocked me when he said “Mike, the most intellectually honest man in the race is Senator Barrack Obama”. He continued “while we totally disagree on what to do with the public’s money- he wants to do more social programs and I want to give it back to the tax payers – we both abhor government waste.” That to me was the Tom Coburn few saw. While no one was stronger in his principles of conservatism, for him it was never personal nor was he ever really partisan.

Our Country needs more Citizen public servants like Dr. Tom Coburn. The term “Rest In Peace“ just doesn’t seem to fit him. I’m more reminded of 2 Timothy 4:7 when the Apostle Paul said “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

Dr. Tom, you have earned your crown of righteousness!

~Mike Cantrell