Citing serious illness, Senator Coburn to step down at the end of the year

One of the real good guys in the Senate is calling it quits after this year. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn announced he will be leaving office two years because of a return of cancer that afflicted him several years ago.


The 65-year-old physician's decision to resign marks a shift in his plans: In an interview earlier this month, he said he believed he was "plenty healthy enough to serve out my term," but acknowledged that circumstances could change.

"The decision I make will be made in conjunction with my family as to how I can best implement and impact things. And if I don't think I can, I won't," Coburn said at the time.

Coburn's departure from the Senate will cut short a nine-year career in the chamber and a longer tenure in Congress that dates back to the 1994 Republican revolution. An obstetrician by training, Coburn served six years in the House -- often clashing with his GOP colleagues as well as Democrats and participating in attempt to depose then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- before standing by a pledge to step down after three terms.

He returned to politics in 2004 when one of Oklahoma's Senate seats opened up, winning an upset victory in the Republican primary and defeating a highly touted Democratic recruit in the general election. Easily reelected in 2010, Coburn has long said he would not seek a third term in 2016.

Coburn's resignation is expected to set up a special election to fill out the remainder of his term in deeply conservative Oklahoma.

Coburn has fought cancer on and off for years: In addition to the recurrence of prostate cancer that he announced in November, Coburn has also grappled with melanoma and colon cancer. He had brain surgery about six years ago as a result of a benign brain tumor.

As of last week, he was facing the prospect of serious surgery that would require doctors to enter through the rib cage - a procedure serious enough that Coburn had already begun to discuss the possible ramifications for his Senate career with close family and friends.

Coburn was one of the few lawmakers who took wasteful government spending seriously. His annual "Wastebook" was filled with examples both hilarious and maddening of billions in unnecessary government expenditures. He planned to step down at the end of his term in 2016 - a self imposed term limit.

Coburn apparently timed his announcement so that the race to succeed him to finish out his term could be held during the coming mid term election. The ensuing scramble among Republicans should be interesting to watch as the winner of the GOP primary will almost certainly be elected in November.

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