Almost exactly one year ago, I was privileged to visit the US Senate and watch Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn at work. I watched as Coburn worked the Senate floor in an attempt to defeat a pork expenditure for an organization in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's two senators (one a Republican and one a Democrat) successfully saved their precious pork appropriation, but not before Coburn made his point and rallied a substantial number of senators to his point of view.
Coburn impressed me with his classy manner of exposing the pork, but doing so in a way that did not alienate or engender unnecessary hard feelings. His style of doing the right thing in a nice manner was a strong example to me of how elected officials should conduct themselves.
Shortly after he arrived in Washington, DC, Coburn embarked on what looked like a one-man fight. Being that one man takes an enormous amount of character and many probably believed that Coburn would be ostracized and left on his own. That did not stop Coburn from taking the Senate floor to denounce the "Bridge to Nowhere," making that term a phrase that would define pork politics for years to come. Coburn's effort came at great risk, as it meant opposing a very powerful Republican Committee Chairman, who viewed Coburn's effort in a very negative light.
Now, a few years later, the tables have turned. While Coburn remains a very popular spokesperson for the people, that powerful Chairman is under federal indictment. It is now clear that Coburn's example has encouraged a nationwide movement and paved the way for a new generation of elected officials who are willing to reject the adage that all legislators must support pork politics.
I think Coburn's one-man effort officially became a nationwide movement when Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin announced her opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere" and that type of federal spending, and when she accepted her selection as a Vice-Presidential candidate.
Since last Saturday, as I have gone door to door visiting with my constituents, I have seen a new excitement in the eyes of the people as they are once again hopeful that maybe, just maybe, with Palin's help, there might actually be a chance for substantive change in our government.
The people are once again excited about voting and the prospect of change. I have not seen this type of excitement since I went door to door in 2004 when Coburn was on the ballot.
Everyone seems to want to talk about Palin and the change that she represents and I believe much of this energy can trace its origin to years ago when Coburn was willing to take to the floor of the Senate and be the one man who started a new national revolution against big spending.
Coburn's example makes it much easier for those of us in elected office to work to follow his example and do the right thing for the people.