Tahlequah Daily Press

January 24, 2014

Race to replace Sen. Tom Coburn will be interesting to watch


TAHLEQUAH — Tom Coburn’s announcement that he would be retiring from the U.S. Senate before the end of his term set off a flurry of speculation about his eventual replacement. A few names are already being bandied about, but so far, the field isn’t that impressive.

We can only hope for a good field from which to choose in both primaries – and that partisan politics won’t play as much a role in the ultimate selection as a commitment to what’s best for Oklahoma. Interestingly, that’s a sentiment shared by the Cherokee County residents with whom we’ve discussed the issue – including Dana Rogers and Shannon Grimes, the respective chairs of the local Democratic and Republican parties.

Both Grimes and Rogers wonder about the “ripple effect” if someone already holding an office should decide to try moving up the ladder, but neither is displaying the “my-party-or-nothing” attitude we’ve seen causing gridlock in the current Congress. Fair and accurate representation – and a willingness to go the distance for the home state – are prime concerns. Of course, progressives and conservatives may disagree on what’s “best,” but in general, growing the Oklahoma economy will always be a top concern for both groups. Okies want and need jobs, and we’d like to have jobs that pay a living wage.

The shoes typically associated with that Senate seat are some big ones to fill, as State Rep. Mike Brown pointed out. He wasn’t just talking about Coburn, but rather the distinguished list of Oklahomans from both parties who have held U.S. Senate seats – only 18 total, to date. He wants Coburn’s replacement to be a similarly dynamic character who can get things done for Oklahoma.

Coburn’s track record may be debated along partisan lines, but although he’s generally seen as conservative, he has often crossed into progressive turf. Known as a “maverick” by the media well before the rather fatuous Sarah Palin co-opted the term, Coburn has always been aggressive in his pursuit of government waste. But he didn’t just aim at the traditional Republican entitlement targets like welfare, Medicare and others seen as “robbing the rich to give to the poor.” Indeed, Coburn recognized “corporate welfare” when he saw it, and for the most part, was every bit as critical of those handouts.

In the Daily Press’ website poll, many folks said would like to see someone more “liberal” than Coburn take the seat. But as Grimes pointed out, the labels of “liberal” and “conservative” aren’t nuanced enough to describe today’s mixture of philosophies. Younger voters, ages 18 to 35, tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative – a more libertarian view. Those were likely key respondents to the Press’ website poll, since the younger set seems to be more internet-savvy than their older peers. In the poll, 47 percent wanted someone more liberal than Coburn; 37 percent someone about like him; and only 13 percent wanted someone more conservative.

It will be interesting to watch this race develop. In light of the current Congress, we can be forgiven for being skeptical, but we also must – as we Okies have always done – persevere, and hold out hope.