Thomas Jeffery Cole (born April 28, 1949) is the U.S. Representative for Oklahoma's 4th congressional district, serving since 2003. He is a member of the Republican Party. He is a Deputy Minority Whip. The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) from 2006 to 2008, he was, during his tenure, the fourth-ranking Republican leader in the House. As of 2010, Cole—a member of the Chickasaw Nation—is the only registered Native American in Congress.
Early life, education, and educating career
Although born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Cole is a fifth-generation Oklahoman, having been raised in Moore, Oklahoma.
He graduated from Grinnell College in 1971 with a B.A. in history. His postgraduate degrees include an M.A. from Yale University (1974) and a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma (1984), both in British history. Cole did research abroad as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow and was a Fulbright Fellow (1977–78) at the University of London. He was a college professor in history and politics before becoming a politician.
Early political career
Following his mother Helen, who served as a state representative and senator, Cole served in the Oklahoma Senate from 1988 to 1991, resigning mid-term to accept a job in Washington. From 1995 to 1999, he was Oklahoma's Secretary of State under Governor Frank Keating, and assisted with the recovery efforts following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He has also served as Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party.
Cole has been heavily involved in national politics as well, having served both as Executive Director of the NRCC and as Chief of Staff of the Republican National Committee (RNC).
Cole spent two years working as a paid consultant for the United States Chamber of Commerce, but his primary involvement in politics was as a political consultant for candidates.
Along with partners Sharon Hargrave Caldwell and Deby Snodgrass, his firm (Cole, Hargrave, Snodgrass and Associates) played a large part in the reconstruction of Oklahoma's political landscape, and backed a number of candidates that took office during the Republican Revolution of 1994. Among their clients have been Keating, J.C. Watts, Tom Coburn, Frank Lucas, Mary Fallin, Wes Watkins, Steve Largent, former Mississippi congressman Chip Pickering, and Hawaii governor Linda Lingle.
U.S. House of Representatives
During his initial campaign for the House of Representatives in 2002, Cole received the endorsement of Watts, the popular outgoing congressman. This helped him win a hard-fought general election over Democratic nominee and former Oklahoma State Senator Darryl Roberts.
Cole subsequently won easy re-election campaigns in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010.
Following the 2006 election cycle, the members of the House Republican Conference elected Cole to the post of NRCC Chairman, placing him in charge of national efforts to assist Republican candidates for Congress.
His voting record during four years in the House marks Cole as a solid conservative with occasional libertarian sympathies. He has consistently voted pro-life and pro-business positions, and established himself as a supporter of free trade, gun rights, the military, veterans, and American Indian issues. He favors loosening immigration restrictions and imposing stricter limits on campaign funds. He has consistently voted against positions supported by lobbies for senior citizens, labor unions, and teachers' unions. However, he was critical in brokering protections for DOD civilian workers.
Cole and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason.
He is a member of the United Methodist Church and lives in Moore.
Cole has said, "I was raised to think of myself as Native American and, most importantly, as Chickasaw."
Cole has said that a great aunt of his was the Native American storyteller Te Ata.
Cole has said, "... [My] mother Helen Cole was... extraordinarily proud of our Native American history and was, frankly, the first Native American woman ever elected to state senate in Oklahoma."
January 23rd, 2012