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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Tom Cole
(2012.201.B0139.0335, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


On November 5, 2002, Oklahomans elected Republican Thomas "Tom" Cole to the U.S. House of Representatives. He succeeded Republican Julius Caesar "J. C." Watts, Jr., who retired from the position. Cole represents Oklahoma's Fourth Congressional District, which includes all or part of fifteen counties in south-central Oklahoma. As of 2013 the district was 66 percent urban and encompassed the major cities of Midwest City, Norman, Moore, Ada, Duncan, Lawton, and Ardmore. The Chickasaw Nation is headquartered in Ada. Two military bases (Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City and Fort Sill in Lawton) and four institutions of higher education (University of Oklahoma, Cameron University, East Central University, and Rose State College) are also situated within the district.

Tom Cole was born on April 28, 1949, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The family moved to Moore, Oklahoma, where he graduated from high school in 1967. He is a fifth-generation Oklahoman and a member of the Chickasaw Nation. His parents are the late Helen Te Ata Gale and John D. Cole, Sr. His mother was a niece of famed Chickasaw storyteller Te Ata. His father served in the U.S. Air Force and worked as a civilian at Tinker Air Force Base. Helen Cole was a mayor of Moore and served as a state representative and state senator from District 45. Helen Cole and her son Tom have been inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. Tom Cole and his wife, the former Ellen Decker, have a son named Mason.

In 1971 Tom Cole obtained a bachelor's of arts degree from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. Three years later he received a master's of arts degree from Yale University. In 1984 he received a doctorate in British history from the University of Oklahoma. He also attended the University of London as a Thomas Watson Fellow and a Fulbright Fellow.

Working in both the private and public sectors, Cole has been a professor of history and politics at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Baptist University. He was a founding partner and former president of Cole, Hargrave, Snodgrass and Associates, a nationally recognized political consulting firm. Before being elected to the U.S. House, Cole served as chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party from 1985 to 1989, as district director to former U.S. Rep. Marvin "Mickey" Edwards, as a state senator from District 45 from 1988 to 1991, and as secretary of state under former Gov. Frank Keating. In 1991 Cole moved to Washington, D.C., to work as executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). In the 2000 Congressional cycle he served as chief of staff of the Republican National Committee, and he chaired the NRCC from 2006 to 2008.

In the 2002 general election Cole narrowly defeated Democrat Darryl Roberts, an Ardmore attorney and a state senator. Although the majority of voters in the Fourth Oklahoma Congressional District are registered as Democrats, Republican Cole gained the voters' confidence. During his tenure in the U.S. House from 2003 to 2013, Cole has served on the Armed Services, the Natural Resources, the House Rules, the Education and Workforce, and the Standards of Official Conduct committees. Since 2009 he has been on the House Appropriations Committee and on the Defense, the Interior, and the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development subcommittees. He is also a member of the GOP whip team and sits on the Republican Steering Committee. As a Chickasaw he was one of two American Indians serving in the U.S. House of the One Hundred Thirteenth Congress (2013–14).

Linda D. Wilson


The Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal, 2013).

Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774–Present (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Congress), http://bioguide.congress.gov (accessed October 29, 2013).

"Thomas J. Cole," Vertical File, Jan Eric Cartwright Memorial Library, State Capitol, Oklahoma City.

"Tom Cole," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 6 November 2002, 8 January 2003, and 10 January 2003.

The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 5 March 2005 and 18 November 2006.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Cole, Thomas Jeffery,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=CO084.

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