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One on One with Oklahoma's newest US Senator, Dr Tom Coburn

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After a bruising campaign, the former 2nd District congressman from Muskogee is back in Washington DC with a new title and the potential to create a lot of waves.

News on 6 anchor Terry Hood says Dr Tom Coburn has walked the halls of Washington before and he was not pleased with what he found.

When I last met Tom Coburn in Washington, I was eight months pregnant and he was a first term congressman sharing an apartment with fellow Republican Steve Largent and in need a housekeeper. Coburn had been in Washington long enough to know the dirt went far beyond what we found in his kitchen and he wasn't hesitant to speak up about it. “I see people doing things for the wrong reasons and it makes me sick.”

In fact, Coburn was so disillusioned when he left the US House in 2000, he wrote a book about it and he spared neither Republicans nor Democrats. Senator Trent Lott, then a republican leader is quoted as saying "I've got an election coming up in 2000. After that we can have good government."

Terry Hood: “how's the response been to that book? There was a quote about Trent Lott, you know, you named names.”

Coburn: “the point was not to embarrass individuals. The point was to show the effect the power of Washington has on making people make wrong decisions.”

Coburn blames careerism, politicians who only look to the next election, for a lot of what's wrong with Washington DC. He says he'll avoid that trap by once again imposing term limits on himself.

Terry Hood: “how much does your faith play into what you are trying to accomplish here?”

Coburn: “it’s where you get your backbone and it’s where you get your boldness.”

In spite all of the expectations surrounding him, so far Coburn has kept that boldness to a minimum. But stay tuned, he predicts things in Washington are about to get a lot more interesting. “I haven't changed. I'm going to take the hard stands, even if I'm the only one standing.”

Tom Coburn may be the new guy in town, but he has a plan to make his presence felt early. Coburn fought to keep up his medical practice in the US House, and plans to do the same in the US Senate. In fact, he's convinced his brand of medicine is just what Washington needs.

Power in the US Senate usually comes from seniority, but Oklahoma's new junior Senator has no time for that. He plans to use the Senate rules to make his mark. “There is no foundation of experience for that, honestly.” And he's studying those rules. Tom Coburn says it’s his best shot at becoming a strong advocate for Oklahoma. “To do that, I have to know the rules better than anyone else and I promise you, I will.”

Coburn ran his US Senate race back in Oklahoma based on keeping his promises. It was a bruising campaign, one he says left him more convinced than ever of the need for reform. “I think the campaign finance reform that we've done is a joke.” Those kinds of blunt statements were hallmarks of Coburn's time in the US House, but he's actually trying to soften that reputation. “There's been a lot written about what I’ve said and I’ve done in the past.”

And a lot of people don't know Tom Coburn. Still, Coburn's become one of the most talked about new senators on Capitol Hill. “I'm going to have a conservative conscience for the Senate. There's no question about it.” And he has some powerful assignments to back him up.

As part of the Senate judiciary committee, Coburn's focus will no doubt be at the US Supreme Court, where changes are expected and Coburn's influence could be felt for years to come. Coburn is a staunch pro-life advocate, even in cases of rape or incest. And while he says he will closely watch President Bush's judicial nominees, “if he sends great nominees, he'll get my vote. If he sends not great nominees, he won't.”

He believes the real battle over abortion is much more personal. “Changing hearts is one of the things you have to do. No matter what you do legally, you have to change people's hearts.”

Tom Coburn admits he's still finding his way in Washington, but he knows exactly where he wants to go.

His web site in Washington DC is www.senate.gov-coburn.
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