- Democratic Senator representing New Mexico
- Former House of Representatives Member (New Mexico’s 3rd District) from 1999 to 2009
- Former member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
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 Colorado 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 grew up first in Tucson and later in suburban Washington, DC. He 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 ran for an open congressional seat in New Mexico’s 1st District but narrowly lost to Bernalillo County District Attorney Steven Schiff.
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 received vital support in his congressional bid from environmentalist groups and powerful family friends. Udall further aided his own cause by accommodating the demands of the New Mexico Green Party, which can sway elections in that state by winning up to 10% of the popular vote when it actively opposes Democrats.
Udall 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.” To view a list of all the Representatives who likewise voted as Udall did, click here.
In 2008 Udall left the House of Representatives to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Peter Domenici (R-New Mexico). Udall won that election, defeating Republican Congressman Steve Pearce.
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 organizations with conservative indicators like “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12” in their names.
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 urging the Internal Revenue Service to give extra scrutiny to the activities of conservative nonprofit political groups that were applying for tax-free status under the IRS’s 501(c)4 rules.
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 (a) consisted of 193 television stations and 614 channels in 89 markets nationwide, and (b) had recently announced plans to acquire the Tribune Media Company’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets, a merger that, if completed, would extend Sinclair’s reach to 72% of all American households. The twelve senators included Udall, Independent Bernie Sanders, and 10 other Democrats: Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Maria Cantwell, Edward Markey, Jeff Merkley, Patty Murray, Tina Smith, Elizabeth Warren, and Ron Wyden.
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 scriptextolling the virtue of “balanced journalism”; stating that “truth is neither politically ‘left or right’”; emphasizing the importance of a “commitment” to reporting that “seek[s] the truth and strive[s] to be fair, balanced and factual”; criticizing “some members of the media” for “us[ing] their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’”; and condemning “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.”
Viewing the Sinclair ad as an implicit defense of President Donald Trump, who had long been under withering attack by media outlets nationwide, the senators wrote in their letter: “We are concerned that Sinclair is engaged in a systematic news distortion operation that seeks to undermine freedom of the press and the robust localism and diversity of viewpoint that is the foundation of our national broadcasting laws.” “We have strong concerns,” they added, “that Sinclair has violated the public interest obligation inherent in holding broadcast licenses. Sinclair may have violated the FCC’s longstanding policy against broadcast licensees deliberately distorting news by staging, slanting, or falsifying information.” The senators also demanded that the FCC put on hold its review of Sinclair’s potential merger with Tribune.
In his response, Pai said he “must respectfully decline” the senators’ request “in light of my commitment to protecting the First Amendment and freedom of the press.” “I understand that you disliked or disagreed with the content of particular broadcasts,” he added, “but I can hardly think of an action more chilling of free speech than the federal government investigating a broadcast station because of disagreement with its news coverage or promotion of that coverage.”
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 Udall’s voting record on a number of key issues during his years in public office, click here.