Oregon

Oregon Senator Part Of Bi-Partisan Political Dynasty

OPB | Oct. 23, 2007 5 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:18 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Colin Fogarty

News last month that Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama is a distant cousin to Vice President Dick Cheney raised some eyebrows.  But other ancestral links in politics are less obscure.

Oregon’s Republican Senator Gordon Smith is a member of the Udall family on his mother’s side.  He has two cousins in the U.S. House.

After next year’s election, it’s possible that both of them could join Smith in the U.S. Senate.  But as Colin Fogarty reports, in this case, blood may not be thicker than party affiliation.


Following the meandering branches of most family trees is inevitably complicated.  And in Mormon families polygamist marriages were common several generations back.  So figuring out who’s related to whom can be even more complex.

 Tom Udall
 Tom Udall

In this case, the three Udall’s in Congress — Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, Congressmen Mark Udall of Colorado, and Tom Udall of New Mexico share one great-grandfather — David King Udall.

Gordon Smith:  “He was a Mormon pioneer sent by Brigham Young to settle Northern Arizona.  And he ended up being one of the drafters of the Arizona state constitution.”

But Gordon Smith says he and his cousins do not share great-grandmothers.  David King Udall had two wives.  One was a Democrat and one was a Republican.  And Smith says those party loyalties have remained for several generations.

Gordon Smith: “Our branch of the Udall family was Republican.  And their branch was Democratic.  But having said that, the interesting thing is that the genealogy of the second wife is much larger than the first wife.  The Republicans are much more pro-life (laughs).”

Colin Fogarty: “In other words, they’ve had more children?”

Gordon Smith:  “Yes.  You’ve got it.”

Gordon Smith, for example, is the eighth of ten children.

 Mark Udall
 Mark Udall

To make it even more complicated, Smith’s Udall relatives are his double cousins because two of his great uncles married two sisters. 

One of those marriages produced Stewart Udall, who was the U.S.  Secretary of Interior in the 1960s.  His brother was Morris K Udall,  a famed Democratic congressman from Arizona — who served for three decades.

Mo Udall ran for President in 1976 and lost to Jimmy Carter.  But Mo Udall is still remembered for sponsoring landmark environmental laws and for his great one liners.  NPR recorded his thoughts on presidential nominating conventions in 1976.

Mo Udall: “The day you come to Washington as a U.S. Senator, the assumption is that you’re a presidential candidate if you’re under 65 and not under indictment or detoxification.  Then I remember that great moment, the flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles and then on to Sacramento for one of the great quadrennial cattle show and oratorical contests. Some great wit described these cattle shows…perhaps it was I…who described them as political foreplay in which one must touch of all of the erogenous zones in the body politic.”

Gordon Smith: “He was the funniest guy in the world.”

Gordon Smith met with Mo Udall in the early 1990s, around the time Smith was starting a career in Oregon state politics.

Gordon Smith: “He always used to say, I wanted to run for President in the worst way.  And I did.  I lost.”

In fact, Mo Udall's biography is called “Too Funny to be President”.  Mo Udall died in 1998 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease.  The year before, Congress approved the Morris K Udall Parkinson’s Research Act.  Smith voted for it and said Mo Udall's experience is one reason he favors funding for stem cell research, contrary to the Bush administration.

 Tom Udall
 Mo Udall

Back to the political family tree.

Mo Udall’s son — Democratic congressman Mark Udall of Colorado — is now running for a seat the U.S. Senate, just as Smith is running for re-election there.  Another cousin — Congressman Tom Udall from New Mexico — had begged off running for the U.S. Senate next year.  But last week, Tom Udall said he’s getting enormous pressure to change his mind, so he's leaving the door open.

Smith says he considers both his cousins “brothers”.  But they are Democrats, so don’t looking for any brotherly love on the campaign trail.

Gordon Smith: “I’m going to stay out of the race.  And I wish them well.  I’d love to serve with them.  I also know there are forces at play that are bigger than any of us individually.  But no matter how it turns out, they’ll still be my brothers and maybe they’ll be my colleagues.”

Having three Udalls in the U.S. Senate would be unprecedented.  But it would not be out of character for a  family dynasty that is full of so many state legislators, government officials, and state Supreme Court justices. The family is considered the Kennedys of the west.

Smith says the familial draw toward politics began with that great grandfather, the Mormon pioneer.

Colin Fogarty: “Going back to David King Udall and his generation, he had two wives.  And the LDS church long ago abandoned polygamy.  A hundred years later, how do you judge them?”

Gordon Smith:  “I am certainly grateful that my religious faith no longer practices this biblical practice of plural marriage.  But I also know what kind of people they were.  They were humble, hard working, family oriented, and given to public service really as a matter of religious faith.”

Smith’s political pedigree isn’t exclusive to the Udall side of his genes.

His father was under Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower.  And his great uncle on his father's side  was governor of Utah in the 1930s.

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