Paul Jacob

Dr. Tom Coburn, late of the House of Representatives, citizen of Oklahoma, now senator from his state, is a controversial enough figure by himself. Contrast him with the rest of Congress, and sparks fly. An OB/GYN physician in good standing, he has entered, as a second career, an ethically challenged profession. There, with his plain speaking and straight dealing, and his personal commitment to term limits, he casts every appearance of propriety.

So of course he has "ethics" troubles.

You see, Dr. Coburn insists on continuing to practice medicine. He did this when he was in the House. He flew home on weekends, holidays, and whenever he could squeeze in the time. He charged enough to pay his staff and keep his insurance up to date, but did his work without paying himself. This kept him pretty much in the clear with the House.

But the Senate is different. Based on a 1998 law and the insurmountable weight of decades-old tradition, the Senate Ethics Committee ruled that the doctor must close his practice by the end of September. They see a "conflict of interest."

To some, working two jobs is worse than a conflict of interest ? moonlighting on one's constituency and one's important work in Washington, D.C. is a sign of disrespect to one's station and those one serves.

Coburn doesn't see it that way. Neither do his constituents. "Every campaign stop I made in Oklahoma over a six-month period," Coburn recently explained, "I said I have every intention to continue to be a physician." And his constituents nevertheless voted him in ? and not as an incumbent, but as a first-time Senator. In the House, he had been a hard worker ? hard enough to make his opponents wish he'd just go away. In one instance, opponents decried that Coburn had "taken over the House," when, bucking his own leadership, he blocked a pork-laden agriculture bill by offering over 100 amendments.

But still he found time to deliver 480 babies.

Coburn just makes other senators look bad. He works too hard. He's not one of the play-along/get-along gang on the Hill.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.