Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Rep. Tom Cole first Native American to chair House Appropriations Committee

House Republicans voted Wednesday to ratify U.S. Rep. Tom Cole as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Photo courtesy of Cole’s office.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, has become the first Native American to chair the House Appropriations Committee and the first congressional member representing Oklahoma to do so. First elected to Congress in 2003, Cole is the longest-serving Native American in congressional history.

“I would like to thank the [House Republican] Conference for their support,” Cole said in a press release, “and ensure them that I am committed to conversing with them all to make sure that we are working to benefit their constituents, as well as properly utilizing our budget to defend our country and meet legitimate domestic needs. I am excited to hit the ground running and get to work for this great nation.”

House Republicans voted Wednesday to ratify Cole as the new chairman. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) announced on March 22 she was stepping down from the position. Cole announced his candidacy three days later.

“At the end of the day, I am a budget hawk,” he said in his candidacy announcement.

“I believe in stretching our budget’s dollars as far as we can, but I also recognize there are critical needs and challenges that must be funded if our great nation is going to be protected, preserved, and improved,” Cole said. “However, as chairman, I will ensure that, in doing this, we are not wasting and abusing. In conclusion, I believe I am the right person to lead the House Appropriations Committee, and I hope my colleagues do too.”

In response to Cole’s new position, Gov. Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation released a statement lauding Cole’s efforts and experience.

“With more than two decades serving as a member of Congress and 15 years on the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Cole has developed the experience and skills needed to lead this committee effectively,” Anoatubby said. “As leader of this committee, he is in a position to ensure the needs of all Americans receive proper consideration during the funding process.”

This was Cole’s second time to throw his hat into the ring for the chairmanship. He, Granger and several other Republicans vied for the role after then-Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) announced his retirement in 2018.

Cole has served on the House Appropriations Committee since 2009, slowly rising through the ranks until he became vice chair of the committee in 2023. Formerly serving as chairman of the House Rules Committee, he stepped down to assume his new role as chair of the House Appropriations Committee as he could not chair both committees at once.

Four months ago, Granger confirmed she would not be running for re-election in 2024. She expressed support for Cole as her successor following the Republican Steering Committee’s decision to recommend him for the role. The Republican Steering Committee is responsible for assigning fellow party members to House committees and advising party leaders on policy issues.

“I am very pleased that my good friend Tom Cole has been selected to lead the Appropriations Committee as chair,” Granger said in a press release. “He has proven himself to be a fierce advocate for life and a strong national defense, and most importantly, he is a true statesman – reasonable yet unwavering in his principles. There is no one better to lead the committee than Tom.”

In 1994, Okmulgee-born Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI) became chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He served for nine months before he was forced to cede the gavel to former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA). In 2007, he ascended to chair the committee once more and held the position for four years before announcing his retirement.

Cole was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on April 28, 1949. His family moved to Moore, where he graduated from high school in 1967. He received a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College in Iowa. He earned a master’s degree from Yale University in 1974 and a doctorate in British history from the University of Oklahoma in 1984.

Following his mother, Helen Cole, into politics, Cole chaired the Oklahoma Republican Party for much of the 1980s. In 1988, he was elected as a state senator representing Oklahoma’s 45th district, succeeding his mother, but he resigned in 1991 to become executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C. From 1995 to 1999, he served as Oklahoma’s 26th secretary of state under Gov. Frank Keating.


Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories by Gaylord News, go to

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