Tom Coburn, the ‘Dr. No’ of Congress, is dead at 72

Tom Coburn, an ultraconservative Oklahoma Republican and family physician who in 16 years in Congress crusaded for limited government, using a rule-book technicality to block so many bills that frustrated legislators called him “Dr. No,” died Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was 72.

Coburn was an obstetrician who treated some 15,000 patients and delivered 4,000 babies in a maternal and family practice in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before embarking on his political career — three terms in the House of Representatives (1995-2001) and two terms in the Senate (2005-15). He retired two years before the end of his second term because of deteriorating health.

Coburn swept into Congress with the class of 1994, when Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years and installed Newt Gingrich as speaker and his “Contract With America” agenda to shrink government.

For the sake of smaller government, he voted against nearly all spending bills. He also opposed gay rights, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research and abortions except those to save a woman’s life. He denied that global warming was real. He also wrote laws aimed at protecting infants from AIDS and expanding medical care for the elderly.

Keeping his campaign pledge to serve no more than three consecutive terms in the House, Coburn did not run for reelection in 2000. He resumed his medical practice and in 2002 was appointed by President George W. Bush as a co-chairman of his advisory council on HIV and AIDS.

In 2004, Coburn won the Senate seat being vacated by a four-term Oklahoma Republican, Don Nickles. He handily defeated former Rep. Brad Carson, a Democrat.

Coburn became notorious for using a procedural senatorial privilege, called a hold, with which a single senator could block bills from being voted on by the full Senate.

Re-elected in 2010, he pledged not to seek a third term. He left the Senate in early 2015, but continued to write and speak against government waste and profligate spending.

Thomas Allen Coburn was born in Casper, Wyoming, on March 14, 1948, to Orin Wesley and Anita (Allen) Coburn.

In 1968 he married Carolyn Denton, the 1967 Miss Oklahoma. They had three daughters: Callie, Katie and Sarah. He is survived by his wife, his daughters and nine grandchildren.

He graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He attended medical school at the University of Oklahoma and received his medical degree with honors in 1983.

He was a deacon of the Southern Baptist Church and participated in medical missions to Haiti in 1985 and Iraq in 1992.

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