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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

For nine straight general elections, Republican and Chickasaw Nation citizen Tom Cole has been the face of Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.

Come Nov. 3, he is a favorite to win yet another term as a U.S. Representative after first being elected in 2002.

Cole is the senior Native member of Congress, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and the top Republican on the key House Rules Committee.

“I position myself to be effective on a variety of issues, and I have a reputation of working in a bipartisan manner, which I think makes a difference,” Cole told Indian Country Today. “Native issues is a good example that I think most Native American issues really aren’t Republican versus Democrat. It really gets down to whether you understand the trust obligation of the federal government and the importance of tribal sovereignty.”

Cole is one of two Natives serving in one of Oklahoma’s five congressional districts. Republican Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, serves the second and is also seeking reelection. Mullin is up against another Cherokee citizen, Democrat Danyell Lanier.

The 4th District covers south-central Oklahoma and is on the southern edge of Oklahoma City. It includes the Chickasaw Nation. Democrat Mary Brannon and Libertarian Bob White are also on the general election ballot.

The deadline to register to vote in Oklahoma has passed, and the last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. Early in-person voting is from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31 and is available only in the county in which potential voters have registered.

Cole, who has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, said he’s been “lucky and blessed” to win nine straight times. “I had a very competitive first election; the ones since then I've been able to win with relative ease,” Cole said.

Cole’s district has a heavy military influence, including Tinker Air Force Base. One of Cole’s focuses in Congress has been on defense issues. He said he’s helped add additional jobs and infrastructure spending to his district related to the military. Cole is senior member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

Cole praised the work of the Native American caucus, especially co-chair Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, a New Mexico Democrat. Both had a role in helping tribes and Native organizations secure around $8 billion as part of the monumental Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

“We were able to get in the big CARES package, the largest transfer of dollars from the federal government to tribal governments in American history,” Cole said.

Cole is in favor of another package that would also benefit tribes and wants tribal governments to have more flexibility in spending and in deadline spending. The CARES Act has tight restrictions on spending and gives tribes through the end of the calendar year to spend their money.

Cole said he’s been “pretty frustrated” Congress hasn’t come to a solution on a second package, or hasn’t at least approved individual items that both parties agree on.

“If we do get another package, we need to make sure that tribes remain at the table,” Cole said.

Cole said he opposes the Democratic-led Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act. It’s unclear if Congress will come to an agreement on a new package before Election Day.

He also supports Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Related: Tom Cole: 'We should have been better prepared')

Following the recent landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma U.S. Supreme Court decision, which reaffirmed that a large portion of eastern Oklahoma remains a reservation, members of the state’s congressional delegation said they stand ready to work with tribal and state officials to ensure “stability and consistency in applying law that brings all criminals to justice.”

Cole noted Oklahoma and tribes in the state have a good history of working together in recent years.

"Indeed, before this decision came down our Attorney General Mike Hunter and various representatives of the five tribes had already been meeting and working toward a common statement of principles and to work out any jurisdictional disagreements or disputes," Cole said in a video message the day after the ruling.

Earlier this month, Cole praised the presidential signing of Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act that helps address the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis. Cole co-sponsored the Not Invisible Act as part of the Native American caucus.

“These critical pieces of legislation will indeed be momentous in combating the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous persons,” he said.

The signing came a few days before Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 13. Cole said he supports a day dedicated to Native people beyond November’s Native American Heritage Month and has supported legislation. However, Cole said he’s not in favor of eliminating Columbus Day.

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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