Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 2002, 6th term.

Born: April 28, 1949, Shreveport, LA

Home: Moore, OK

Education: Grinnell Col., B.A. 1971, Yale U., M.A. 1974, U. of OK, Ph.D. 1984

Professional Career: OK GOP Chmn., 1985-89; Exec. dir. NRCC, 1991-95; OK secy. of state, 1995-99; Pol. consultant, 2000-2002.

Ethnicity: Indian/Native American

Religion: Methodist

Family: Married (Ellen Elizabeth Decker) , 1 child

Tom Cole, first elected in 2002, is a politically savvy Republican who is a frequent source for reporters seeking to understand the GOP’s inner workings. After a falling-out with then-Minority Leader John Boehner over Cole’s rocky stewardship of the National Republican Congressional Committee, he has again become a key Boehner ally.

Cole grew up in Moore, south of Oklahoma City. He is a fifth-generation Oklahoman, and his mother was a state representative and senator. He’s also a member of the Chickasaw Nation tribe; more than half of the nation’s Chickasaw Indians live in the district. With the retirement of Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado in 2004, Cole became the only American Indian in Congress until 2013, when his Oklahoma GOP colleague Markwayne Mullin joined him in the House. Cole’s father served in the Air Force and later worked at Tinker Air Force Base. Cole graduated from Grinnell College, got a master’s degree at Yale University, and a Ph.D. in British history at the University of Oklahoma, studying for a year at the University of London. From 1985 to 1989, he was the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman. In 1988, he was elected to the state Senate.

He moved to Washington in 1991 to become executive director of the NRCC, and over the next few years, held jobs as the chief of staff for the Republican National Committee in the 2000 election, the appointed Oklahoma secretary of state, and the president of a polling and political consulting firm in Oklahoma City.

In 2002, when Rep. J.C. Watts announced that he would not seek reelection, Cole moved quickly to run. Despite his party connections and an endorsement from Watts, he faced formidable opposition from attorney Marc Nuttle. The two shared positions on most issues and extensive party connections. Nuttle had been Cole’s predecessor at the NRCC, and had worked on Republican Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign. Nuttle and Cole also had worked together to pass an Oklahoma right-to-work law in a 2001 referendum. But in the showdown between the strategists, Cole won 60%-33%.

In the general election, he had tough competition from former state Senate Majority Leader Darryl Roberts, whoappealed to the “yellow dog” Democratic tradition that is particularly strong in the Red River counties. Cole countered by linking Roberts to all of the past Democratic presidential nominees he had supported, and described him as “pro-tax, pro-abortion, and pro-lawsuit.” Cole won 54%-46%, and has been reelected with ease ever since.

In the House, Cole has a mostly conservative voting record, though in the 112th Congress (2011-12) he was the least-conservative Republican in the Oklahoma delegation, according to National Journal’s rankings. He is a member of the GOP whip team and sits on the Republican Steering Committee, which makes committee assignments. And in a sign of his increasing value to Boehner, he returned in 2013 to the leadership-driven Rules Committee, a panel on which he had previously served. “He doesn’t play coy and he has good relationships on both sides of the aisle,” University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie told Oklahoma City’s Journal Record Legislative Report. Colleagues also value his understanding of politics. “He’s an excellent political mechanic—one of the best,” Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe told The Oklahoman. “I never question his wisdom when he says something out of the norm.”

Cole differs from his younger conservative colleagues in being generally supportive of government spending. From his plum seat on the Appropriations Committee, he tends to the needs of his district’s military installations and supports federal programs that help his constituents. Among them is the Education Department’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), which helps disadvantaged students prepare for college and which Cole said has served more than 31,000 Oklahoma students. He warned in March 2011 that a government shutdown could “cause panic” in the financial markets. And during the late 2012 negotiations over tax and spending to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” he urged his party to accept a tax-cut extension for all but the wealthiest Americans, a position that several Republicans subsequently adopted, leading to the bill’s passage.

In the fall of 2013, he took on an expanded role in critical budget talks between Republicans who controlled the House and President Barack Obama and Democrats who were in the majority in the Senate. Cole was one of four Republicans appointed by Boehner to a conference committee charged with hammering out a deal aimed at ending the partisan brinkmanship that had led to a 16-day government shutdown earlier in the year. The Republican brand had been badly damaged by the shutdown, which the public largely blamed on the House GOP. Moreover, several preceding battles over taxes and spending had resulted in automatic, across-the-board cuts and had threatened the nation's credit rating -- all of which helped produce historic lows in public confidence in the federal government.   

Cole was known as an able conciliator trusted by mainstream Republicans and conservative enough to maintain credibility with the impulsive and restive tea party faction of the caucus. A profile on the Politico website in October 2013 likened him to "the friendly uncle sent out to smoke a cigar and explain to the neighbors what all the noise is about in the basement," and called him "an important arbiter in upcoming budget talks." That was especially the case given that the lead GOP negotiator by title -- Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- was considered a future presidential hopeful and so unlikely to push the right wing too hard for a deal.

Cole began his House career on the Armed Services Committee, a seat of obvious importance to the district, before leaving the panel in 2005 to serve on Rules, which launched him on a career in leadership. He has been actively involved in issues related to American Indians. The House in 2012 took up his bill to help foreign businesses invest in Indian tribes, but it did not achieve the two-thirds majority required to get on a fast-track for passage. In the wake of an influence-peddling scandal involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented several tribes, Cole strongly opposed the proposed limits on the right of tribes to contribute to political campaigns.

Following the dismal 2006 election for Republicans, Cole was elected by his peers to be chairman of the NRCC, the fifth-ranking GOP leadership job and one that put him in charge of national Republican efforts to regain the party’s majority in the House in 2008. Cole defeated Texan Pete Sessions, 102 to 81, to take over the committee, where he’d cut his teeth as a political strategist years before. He expanded the playing field of competitive seats, but his two-year chairmanship overall was dismal. The party had had a rough transition to the minority after a dozen years in control, the committee was $19 million in debt, and there were an inordinate number of GOP retirements. Cole and the Republicans raised $116 million for 2008 contests, compared to $171 million for the Democrats.On top of all that, the committee had internal problems, notably the discovery that its longtime treasurer had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the biggest obstacle was largely out of Cole’s control: President George W. Bush’s low public approval ratings, which made reelection an uphill climb for most Republicans. The party lost rather than gained seats in the House, winding up at a 257-178 disadvantage.

In that period, the relationship between Cole and Boehner deteriorated, with public sniping and second-guessing over who was to blame for the party’s electoral failure. Boehner believed that Cole’s top staffers at the NRCC were not sufficiently aggressive at fundraising and candidate recruitment, and created an advisory group to look over Cole’s shoulder at the committee. (The two had started out with a cool relationship—Cole had publicly backed Republican Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri over Boehner in the bitterly contested race for majority leader in 2006.)

Nevertheless, after the election, Cole decided to seek reelection to another two years as NRCC chairman. Once again, Sessions was seeking the post, with the active support of Boehner. Sensing he could well lose the showdown this time when the decision went to a vote by all House Republicans, Cole withdrew. In a gesture of conciliation, Boehner gave Cole a seat on Appropriations in 2009. And Cole subsequently worked himself back into Boehner’s good graces through voracious fundraising.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-6165

(202) 225-3512

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2467
Washington, DC 20515-3604

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-6165

(202) 225-3512

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2467
Washington, DC 20515-3604

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 225-6165

(202) 225-3512

2424 Springer Drive Suite 201
Norman, OK 73069-3966

DISTRICT OFFICE

(405) 329-6500

(405) 321-7369

2424 Springer Drive Suite 201
Norman, OK 73069-3966

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 225-6165

(202) 225-3512

Sugg Clinic Office Building Suite 213
Ada, OK 74820-6502

DISTRICT OFFICE

(580) 436-5375

(580) 436-5451

Sugg Clinic Office Building Suite 213
Ada, OK 74820-6502

DISTRICT OFFICE

(580) 357-2131

(580) 357-7477

711 SW D Avenue Suite 201
Lawton, OK 73501-4561

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 225-6165

(202) 225-3512

711 SW D Avenue Suite 201
Lawton, OK 73501-4561

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(202) 225-6165

(202) 225-3512

PO Box 722256
Norman, OK 73070

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 722256
Norman, OK 73070

EXPORT CONTACTS » *

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Holmes Whalen
Legislative Assistant

Acquisitions

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Agriculture

Holmes Whalen
Legislative Assistant

Appropriations

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Maria Bowie
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Banking

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Budget

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Maria Bowie
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Campaign

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Commerce

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Communication

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Education

Maria Bowie
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Energy

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Finance

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Foreign

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Govt Ops

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Health

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Homeland Security

Maria Bowie
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Housing

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Insurance

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Internet

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

Holmes Whalen
Legislative Assistant

Medicare

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Military

Maria Bowie
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Small Business

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Social Security

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Tax

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Maria Bowie
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Technology

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Telecommunications

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Trade

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Transportation

Steve Waskiewicz
Senior Legislative Assistant

Veterans

Maria Bowie
Deputy Chief of Staff; Legislative Director

Election Results

2014 GENERAL
Tom Cole
Votes: 117,649
Percent: 70.81%
Bert Smith
Votes: 40,956
Percent: 24.65%
2012 GENERAL
Tom Cole
Votes: 176,740
Percent: 67.89%
Donna Marie Bebo
Votes: 71,846
Percent: 27.6%
2012 PRIMARY
Tom Cole
Votes: 22,840
Percent: 87.73%
Gary Caissie
Votes: 3,195
Percent: 12.27%
2010 GENERAL
Tom Cole
Unopposed
2010 PRIMARY
Tom Cole
Votes: 32,589
Percent: 77.26%
R. J. Harris
Votes: 9,593
Percent: 22.74%
2008 GENERAL
Tom Cole
Votes: 180,080
Percent: 66.02%
Blake Cummings
Votes: 79,674
Percent: 29.21%
2008 PRIMARY
Tom Cole
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (unopposed), 2008 (66%), 2006 (65%), 2004 (78%), 2002 (54%)

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