Coburn

Image of Tom Coburn

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to leave the Senate before his second term is finished should have progressives here in Oklahoma at least a tad worried.

Could Oklahoma elect someone even more conservative to fill his seat? That’s absolutely possible. Unless a big-name politician, such as former Gov. Brad Henry, steps into the race, Democrats have little chance to replace Coburn. Some of the Republicans who have been mentioned as possible candidates include ultra-conservative politicians that pander to the most extreme elements of their party.

Coburn, widely known as a fiscal conservative, announced last week that he was retiring from the Senate, where he has served since his 2004 election. Coburn has been dealing with a reccurence of prostate cancer, and he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. He had earlier pledged not to serve more than two terms in the Senate. I respect his decision to step down. There have even been times when I’ve actually agreed with Coburn on issues. For example, I agreed with Coburn recently that the National Football League should not be exempted from taxes.

I was quoted Friday on the NPR.org site about Coburn’s retirement. As I argued, I found some of Coburn’s Senate actions through the years--his numerous holds on legislation that earned him the nickname “Dr. No”--as political theater and simple constituent pandering. Yet Coburn has to be considered the lesser of the two evils when compared to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who remains reviled in major pockets of this country and world for his radical views disavowing climate-change science and his antiquated position on gay rights. Inhofe will be up for reelection this year as well and has drawn a Democratic opponent, which means both the state’s U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs.

Gov. Mary Fallin set the dates for the special election for Coburn’s seat on the regular election schedule, which means some of the politicians mentioned as candidates would have to give up their current positions in order to run. This could make the election extremely intriguing and could open up opportunities for Democrats and progressives if a bevy of Republicans decided to run.

Some media outlets locally and nationally, however, have already opined that Democrats have no chance for either Senate seat, and that Inhofe will easily coast to reelection. Anti-Obama hysteria or the “Obama effect,” fueled by the corporate media here, especially The Oklahoman, is the major reason Democrats have been sidelined over the last several years in the Oklahoma political scene.

Republicans have super majorities in the state House and Senate, hold all the major statewide offices and make up the state’s entire Congressional delegation.

So could the state’s political scene get even more radically conservative? Yes. Some of those Republicans mentioned as possible candidates for Coburn’s seat include U.S. Reps. James Lankford and Jim Bridenstine. (Lankford, in particular, is expected to run.) Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon has also been mentioned. What about Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who once ran for a Congressional seat on an ultra-conservative, anti-gay rights platform? He certainly knows how to dish out the shallow, right-wing rhetoric and work the corporate power structure here.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt have issued statements stating that they would not run for the seat. Of all the possible Republican candidates mentioned in the media, Cole would have been the most palpable for progressives.

It’s my perception that Lankford, Bridenstine, and Shannon have all identified in one way or another with right-wing extremism in ways deeper than even Coburn and would probably be even more ideological. Cornett is involved in a highly contested mayoral election, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ran for the position or ran for Lankford’s Congressional seat.

So it goes in Oklahoma these days. Progressives can probably only hope for less radical Republicans to win elections. This will change one day, but, for now, that’s the reality.