In 2009 I had begun a remarkable journey as the first Republican woman in Utah to run for U.S. Senate, admittedly an uphill challenge in and of itself. In that process, I traveled to Washington, D.C. on several occasions to meet with and speak to conservatives in Congress and grassroots leaders.
On one of those occasions, I was running back-to-back meetings that my scheduler had so effectively organized. Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint had an interest in visiting with me.
I wish I could say that I won that race. I didn’t. But it is because of that visit to Senator Coburn’s office that three of us who challenged the incumbent were able to defeat him. Now this country has one of the best constitutional conservatives in recent memory who entered the race months after that visit with Senator Coburn: Mike Lee.
I will always be grateful to Senator Coburn for what he did for me – for all of us, really. Here’s the story.
I’ve been in Senatorial offices before on previous D.C. trips to advocate for conservative causes, but this was the first time I was entering a Senator’s office with the possibility of become one of the club, as it’s known. How to become one of the mostly boys club was seriously on my mind.
Not only was that on my mind, the surreal experience was unfolding. When media asked me who I would most be like in the U.S. Senate, I always said that my two heroes were Senator Coburn and Senator DeMint. That really said it all. The sad truth is that there were only a handful – five literally – that I could call “conservative” in that good-old-boys and girls club.
I sat down in the lovely sitting room of Senator Coburn’s office and waited. When he entered the room, he was friendly and welcoming. It was clearly an interview. And I was ready.
We had much in common, other than our conservative ideology. He was a medical doctor, an OB-GYN. My deceased father had been a urologist. His mother’s middle name was Joy. My middle name was Joy. He represented Oklahoma and later American Leadership Fund would cover the expenses to represent Oklahoma in the 10th Circuit Court and Supreme Court defending Marriage between a man and a woman.
Also, he had a daughter who was a classically trained singer. I had been classically trained by a Metropolitan opera singer, Margaret Romaine, and had spent many years performing in professional regional musical theatre in L.A., Dallas and New York City, as well as with touring companies.
Senator Coburn made me feel so at home and comfortable that I forgot it was an “interview” and that I was being closely scrutinized and questioned on the issues. I was aware of the incumbent’s record as the 9th most liberal Republican in the U.S. Senate. Everyone in Utah runs as a “conservative.” If you’re a liberal, however, you run as a “mainstream conservative.” That’s code.
But until that meeting I was not aware of how desperately my opponent’s colleagues wanted him retired from the Senate.
Courtesy Getty Images
Suddenly Senator Coburn asked, “Have you met with Senator McCain yet?” When I said, “No” he jumped up and said, “We need to get you an appointment right away. How long will you be in town?” “Until tomorrow,” I responded.
He disappeared from the room and then a few minutes later returned. He walked up to me and said, “Just yesterday I saw Senator McCain have words with your opponent [Senator Bob Bennett] – he was red-faced, and shaking his finger at him because your senator voted for yet another earmark. He said, ‘Bob, if you keep this up, I’m going to endorse that woman in your race.”
Although it was probably meant as a demeaning threat – to vote for a woman – I’ll take it. We sat back down waiting for the next move. A staff member walked in with a notebook. Senator Coburn’s research staff had compiled a three ring binder for me to take back to Utah. It had Senator Bennett’s entire spending record. Incredible. Information that would have taken weeks for our team to compile. It was priceless.
Then we got word that Senator DeMint’s chief of staff wanted to meet with me while we waited for the okay from Senator McCain. I began to realize that he was really the leader of the Republican Party, having been the nominee for president in 2004 and I was going through three interviews. My campaign manager David Kyle Herring and I sat around a table in an outer office and Senator DeMint’s chief of staff grilled me on every aspect of our election system in Utah.
It was a perfect storm for ousting the incumbent, and the best bang for the buck. Our literature was aggressive and cited Senator Bennett’s promises he did not keep. Among them were to reduce the tax code to the size of a post card, his damning position on the banking committee during the time the financial market melted down and his liberal record ranking him in the top 5 of those who received the most campaign contributions from Freddie Mac. We also brought to light that his health care proposal was really “ObamaCare Lite” and that it included a provision to mandate abortion services to insurance companies that wanted to participate. Many delegates in Utah were shocked and didn’t believe me at first. My staff had to clip the text from the bill and literally show it to them.
Then word came that Senator McCain was ready to see me. We were nearly running down the hallways and up an elevator. I was surprised to learn that I towered over Senator McCain. He shook my hand, and we sat in his sitting room and again, another interview. After a few minutes he leaned back and said to his staff, “It’s been a while since I’ve been in Utah. I think maybe it’s time for me to make an appearance again.”
I got the impression he wanted a response, and so I was honest, “Well, that would be great, but I’ll need to discuss it with my campaign staff.” (I was secretly dying a thousand deaths because in Utah John McCain is considered moderate to liberal and that could be death to my campaign.)
All right, so my inexperience was showing. I got the impression that people don’t hesitate when John McCain makes an offer to come to your state to endorse and raise money for you. That’s what was happening and I probably failed that test. Nevertheless, all agreed that if he did come to Utah, it would be best if he were flanked by his more conservative colleagues – Senators Coburn and DeMint.
We expressed our concern to Senator DeMint’s office, and they understood. But I was never sure whether Senator McCain took so kindly to my less than exuberant response to his offer. This was internal warfare in the Senate and I was the tool, and that was okay.
I have never forgotten Senator Coburn’s kindness. I still have that three ring binder. It went with me everywhere and it was the proof that the incumbent we were trying to unseat needed to be retired. It gave the campaign a real advantage.
Senator Tom Coburn is a man of his word. He has struggled with the recurrence of cancer more than once in his life. But he is not a quitter. Health and family should always trump personal influence or gain, even if in the highest office of this land. I have great respect for that priority in his personal life. He had promised only to serve three terms, and he was nearing completion of his last term when he announced he would be stepping down early.
What a true conservative he was. He was a champion of Life and marriage between a man and a woman. He did not shrink from the opportunity to stand up for limited government in every way.
But with this onset of prostate cancer, I understand his need to retire early from the U.S. Senate. What a loss it will be to all of us to not have him there as 2015 rolls around.
My only regret from having lost that long-shot challenge is that I did not have the opportunity know Senator Coburn on a more personal level, and to fight my father’s fight against socialized medicine, one of my passions. But most of all that I have not had an opportunity to thank him personally for changing my life and for the many lives he has changed all across this nation with his commitment to personal integrity, an ideal that has been all but lost in Congress.
That’s why watching the video of his farewell address is so important and truly amazing. If only Congress behaved as this Senator did. Will they listen to his advice?
If you’ve got four minutes, here are some emotional highlights.
But if you have about 15 minutes, start at 15:28 and you will see a giant of a man preaching to his colleagues about how just ONE Senator can stop everything. Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee did precisely that recently when they stood in opposition to the Senate’s passing of the $1.1 trillion budget. The media, and their own colleagues, have treated them as schoolboys and “amateurs” for simply doing what the Founders expect of all 100 of them. #shameful
So I suggest watching this 28 minute video in its entirety. It will not only show you the kind of courage and leadership the U.S. Senate desperately needs, it will teach you what it means to keep an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against enemies, foreign and domestic. He explains why the “magic number is not 60″ and why “the most important number is ONE.”
That ONE will departing on January 2, 2015. We pray that the other 99 will listen to his sound advice and remember his example. We pray that they will be humbled in their arrogance with which the majority has been afflicted and that they will stop criticizing the newer members that are following Senator Coburn’s advice – Senator Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.
God bless Tom Coburn. He will be sorely missed.
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