Sen. Mark Udall (left) and his cousin Sen. Tom Udall look at family photos as they talk about their familys legacy and their efforts to foster changes in the Senate.
A dusty half-mile trail separated the houses where cousins Mark and Tom Udall grew up in Tucson, Ariz. As boys, they traversed the distance by bike or by pony.
Now, the men have offices two floors apart in the Hart Senate Office Building, and the Democratic Senators from Colorado and New Mexico, respectively, can reach each other easily on foot.
Three years into their first terms, each is finding his own path in the Senate, where the terrain can be as rocky as the Arizona desert. On the way, they have set themselves apart — from their Democratic caucus, from the long shadows cast by their famous fathers and even from one another.
“They have both already developed a reputation for reaching out across the aisle,” says Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who considered Mark’s late father, Rep. Morris “Mo” Udall (D-Ariz.), a mentor. “They are good fits for their states, which are pretty independent.”
Tom, 62, made waves this month in the notoriously slow-to-change chamber when he championed the overhaul of one of the institution’s signature mechanisms, the filibuster. Although his colleagues voted down his plan to weaken the filibuster’s bill-killing powers, it sparked debate and put him at odds with Democratic leaders.
Mark, 60, lately has also displayed an independent streak. He was behind the bipartisan seating arrangements during the State of the Union address. And he was the first Democrat last week to support a GOP-backed balanced budget amendment.
Those recent moves have raised the profiles of the Udall cousins, but their newly prominent, contrarian roles are an outgrowth of their quirky Western personas.
“Over here, you have two great Americans,” Mark says on a recent afternoon, motioning to a framed photo displayed in Tom’s Senate office. It is a black-and-white snapshot of his father and Tom’s father, Stew Udall (D-Ariz.), the late former Congressman and secretary of the Interior. “And here,” he says, picking up another picture, “you’ve got two bums.”
This frame reveals Mark and Tom on a long-ago mountain-climbing trip. Neither is certain of the year it was taken, but their beards and sideburns put it sometime in the 1970s. Both men smile at the memory. But neither needs a photo to remind them of their shared history or their family legacy.
To ask about their own roles in the Senate is to hear about Mo and Stew and the Udall tradition. Both trace their interest in politics to their fathers and credit them with their focus on environmental issues.
“We’re not going to ever fill those shoes, but we can follow the direction their boot-steps lead,” Mark says. He is the wilder of the two, more prone to wise-cracking. Tom’s humor is more understated. He takes notes while he listens, and his hair is neatly combed in place, where Mark’s flops onto his forehead.
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