Tom Udall was born on May 18, 1948 in Tucson, Arizona, the son of the late Stewart Udall, who served as an Arizona congressman (1955-61) and U.S. Secretary of the Interior (1961-69). He is also the nephew of former Arizona congressman Morris “Mo” Udall, and the first cousin of former U.S. Senator Mark Udall. All of Tom Udall’s politician relatives are Democrats like him, except for distant cousin Gordon Smith, a Republican who served twelve years as a U.S. senator from Oregon.
Udall earned a BA in government from Prescott College (1970), a Bachelor of Law degree from Cambridge University (1975), and a JD from the University of New Mexico Law School (1977). He worked as a law clerk for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1977, and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1978-81.
In 1981 Udall opened a private law practice. The following year, he ran for Congress in the newly created 3rd District of New Mexico but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Bill Richardson. In 1983-84 Udall served as chief counsel for New Mexico’s Health and Environment Department. From 1985-90 he was a trial lawyer with the firm Miller, Stratvert, Torgerson, & Schlenker. And in 1988 he narrowly lost an election for an open congressional seat in New Mexico’s 1st District.
In 1990 Udall was elected as New Mexico’s Attorney General, a position he would hold until 1998 when he won a U.S. House seat representing his state’s 3rd District. He went on to win re-election to four additional two-year terms in the House of Representatives, and became a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In May 2005 Udall was one of only 22 House members to vote against HR 193, a bill that: (a) expressed support for “the historic meeting of the Assembly to Promote the Civil Society in Cuba,” which was slated to take place later that month in Havana; (b) urged “the [Bush] Administration and international community to actively oppose any attempts by the Castro regime to repress or punish the organizers and participants of the Assembly”; and (c) affirmed that the House shared the Assembly’s desire to “hasten the day of freedom and democracy for the people of Cuba.”
On December 6, 2006—three days before the 25th anniversary of the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner by former Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal—Udall was one of only 31 U.S. House Members (all Democrats) to vote against a resolution “condemning the decision of St. Denis, France, to name a street in honor of … Abu-Jamal.”
In 2008 Udall was elected to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Peter Domenici (R-New Mexico).
On March 12, 2012, Udall joined Charles Schumer, Al Franken, and five other Democrat senators in writing a letter to IRS officials, urging the agency to give extra scrutiny to the activities of conservative “social welfare organizations” that were applying for tax-exempt status. The letter warned of “abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities.” Fourteen months later, news broke that the IRS had been engaged in a massive scandal whereby it had delayed and derailed tax-exemption applications filed by hundreds of conservative organizations.
On June 3, 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics filed a complaint against Udall and eight other Senate Democrats, charging that they had violated Senate rules by their efforts to politicize the IRS.
In April 2018, Udall was one of 12 U.S. senators who sought to punish the Sinclair Broadcast Group – widely perceived as a conservative media company – which had recently announced plans to acquire the Tribune Media Company’s 42 TV stations in a merger that, if completed, would extend Sinclair’s reach to 72% of all American households. In a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai, these senators expressed concern over the fact that Sinclair had recently aired an ad showing its various local anchors reading from a corporate script extolling the virtue of “balanced journalism” and condemning “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The senators viewed the Sinclair ad as an implicit defense of President Donald Trump, who had long been under withering attack by media outlets nationwide.
Udall believes that:
Over the course of Udall’s political career, the officials, employees, members, and PACs of various labor unions and activist groups have been among the leading financial contributors to his campaigns. These donors include individuals affiliated with such entities as ActBlue, the AFSCME, the American Association for Justice, the American Federation of Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, J Street, the League of Conservation Voters, and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union.
For an overview of Tom Udall’s voting record on key issues during his years as a legislator in the U.S. House and Senate, click here.
Further Reading: “Tom Udall” (Votesmart.org, Keywiki.org); “Schumer, Franken Urged IRS to Target Tea Party in 2012” (Daily Caller, 5-17-2013); Tom Udall’s Positions on Key Issues (OnTheIssues.org); Leading Contributors to Senator Tom Udall (OpenSecrets.org).