The political legacy of the Lee-Udall family


A10-year-old Mike Lee heard a knock on the door of his McLean, Virginia, dwelling, the place the household had simply moved from Utah.

When his dad, Rex E. Lee, opened the door, the younger boy listened to a person outdoors, “Hello, we’re your ward academics.”

“My dad simply laughed and mentioned, ‘Come on in guys.’ I keep in mind him saying one thing like, ‘Nicely, that reveals how lengthy it’s been because you’ve set foot in a Mormon church, doesn’t it?’” the now Republican senator from Utah remembers.

His dad was poking enjoyable at first cousins Stewart and Morris “Mo” Udall, who used an antiquated title for Latter-day Saint “dwelling academics” who go to fellow congregants within the neighborhood to share a spiritual message. Immediately, they’re known as ministering brothers or sisters.

The senator mentioned his dad’s cousins lived close by in the identical Fairfax County residential neighborhood that has lengthy been dwelling to diplomats, members of Congress and high-ranking authorities officers.

However the scene of his dad chatting it up with family, who all hailed from the tiny jap Arizona city of St. Johns, marked the primary time the youthful Lee started realizing his prolonged household was populated with political and authorized legends from the West courting again to the 1850s.

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Retired Brigham Younger College President and former U.S. Solicitor Common Rex E. Lee is pictured throughout an interview in 1995.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Information

His dad had simply been appointed solicitor normal for the Reagan administration. Stewart Udall was a former congressman and Inside secretary within the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. And Mo Udall was in his eleventh time period representing Arizona within the Home. Three extra Udall-Lee family (one Republican and two Democrats) would serve within the Senate, and Mike Lee turned the fourth.

If the senator from Utah fails to win a 3rd time period this yr, it may break a exceptional streak of a Lee or Udall relative serving in Congress in each decade because the Fifties.

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“The Udall-Lee run of eight consecutive a long time in Congress is almost unprecedented,” mentioned Jane L. Campbell, CEO and president of the U.S. Capitol Historic Society. “Solely the Dingells surpass the Udall-Lees for his or her consecutive variety of a long time in both chamber of Congress. And solely the Kennedys match the Udall-Lees in that regard.”

Udall and Lee family typically wave off comparisons to the Kennedys, Bushes, Roosevelts, or Dingells. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, of Colorado, as soon as recalled his aunt summing up such comparisons this fashion: “The Kennedys are rich, Catholic New Englanders; the Udalls are poor, Mormon grime farmers from the West.”

For higher or for worse, these “grime farmers” have had an outsized financial and environmental affect on the West, and observers say their public service the previous seven a long time is felt at the moment within the White Home, Congress, the Supreme Courtroom and all through the nation.


The Udall-Lee household’s spectacular political legacy had an inauspicious starting. Each traces of politicians share a typical ancestor — the infamous pioneer frontiersman John Doyle Lee.

An early convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lee trekked throughout the Plains and helped settle the cruel southern Utah desert. He served within the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1858.

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John D. Lee, circa 1877, the yr he was executed for his function within the Mountain Meadows Bloodbath.

The political submit got here after Lee was a number one participant in one of many darkest chapters in western United States historical past that led to his execution by firing squad. Prison trials practically 20 years after the crime confirmed he helped perform the bloodbath of greater than 100 males, ladies and kids, throughout a local weather of hysteria when federal troops had been headed to Utah. The victims comprised an emigrant firm from Arkansas making their solution to California after they had been slaughtered on Sept. 11, 1857, by a gaggle of Latter-day Saint settlers and Paiute Indians in southwestern Utah.

A monument stands on the Nationwide Historic Landmark memorializing what is called the Mountain Meadows Bloodbath. And Lee’s involvement within the atrocity troubled a lot of his descendants then, and now.

“I keep in mind listening to my grandmother, Lela Lee Udall, who was a granddaughter of John D. Lee, as soon as specific that it was a really heavy cross that her household needed to bear as a legacy of John D. Lee,” recalled Gordon Smith, a Lee and Udall descendant who served two phrases as a Republican U.S. senator from Oregon.

Sen. Mike Lee mentioned he senses the 2 legal trials his ancestor went by way of might have influenced his grandfather’s choice to go to regulation faculty. John D. Lee’s first trial ended with a hung jury. And his legal professional, William Bishop, who anticipated the identical consequence within the second jury trial, was caught unprepared as a brand new prosecuting legal professional gained a first-degree homicide conviction, mentioned Richard E. Turley Jr., a former assistant church historian and co-author of a forthcoming e book on the aftermath of the bloodbath and the Lee trials.

Lee’s execution by firing squad befell at Mountain Meadows.

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John D. Lee is pictured sitting on a coffin with others standing round simply earlier than his execution.

College of Utah particular collections


Amongst Lee’s most loyal defenders was his son John David Lee, whose mom was Lee’s 14th polygamous spouse. And it was from John David that the Lee-Udall political progeny sprang.

Two of his daughters — Louisa and Lela — married Udalls, who themselves and several other of their siblings held outstanding public places of work all through Arizona, together with mayor of Phoenix and chief justice of the state Supreme Courtroom. And their youngsters continued the custom with Stewart Udall turning into the primary within the household to be elected to Congress in 1955 as a Democrat.

He served till 1961, when he was named inside secretary within the Kennedy after which Johnson administrations. His brother Mo Udall succeeded him and represented the state’s 2nd Congressional District for 30 years. Throughout that point, he misplaced the Democratic nomination for president to Jimmy Carter in 1976.

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Stewart Udall, the previous secretary of the inside, is pictured on Oct. 23, 2002, in Salt Lake Metropolis.

Paul Barker, Deseret Information

Their Republican cousin Rex E. Lee, a grandson of John David Lee, served as U.S. solicitor normal from 1981-85. His oldest son Thomas Lee, an affiliate justice of the Utah Supreme Courtroom, had been on brief lists, alongside together with his brother Sen. Mike Lee, of potential U.S. Supreme Courtroom nomineesduring the Trump administration.

When Mo Udall resigned in 1991, a Udall-Lee descendant was absent from Capitol Hill for practically six years, till Smith was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996. Two years later, cousins Tom Udall and Mark Udall, each Democrats, gained congressional seats in New Mexico and Colorado, respectively.

In 2008, Tom and Mark gained U.S. Senate seats however Smith misplaced his bid for a 3rd time period. The uncommon prevalence of getting three family serving within the U.S. Senate on the identical time occurred two years later, when Sen. Mike Lee was first elected.

Whereas far aside politically, Lee mentioned the Udalls supported their freshman cousin throughout the aisle.

“Each new member is assigned a mentor upon arriving, and Tom was assigned to be mine,” Lee mentioned. “It’s somebody to look out for you and let you know how the place works. He was very useful.”

Tom Udall, Stewart Udall’s son, is now U.S. ambassador to New Zealand after two phrases within the Senate.

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New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall speaks in Salt Lake Metropolis on Jan. 24, 2015.

Chelsey Allder, Deseret Information

Analysis into political dynasties in America finds that “energy begets energy.” A 2007 examine on political dynasties in Congress since 1789 discovered that “legislators who take pleasure in longer tenures are considerably extra more likely to have family getting into Congress later.”

The analysis didn’t provide causes, however one of many authors informed Reuters that it could possibly be youngsters of political mother and father gained identify recognition, discovered beneficial political abilities or received entry to political equipment that smoothed the best way right into a profession in politics.

Mark Udall, Mo Udall’s son, defined there was by no means strain within the household to pursue politics, however when individuals like Bobby Kennedy and different outstanding persons are dropping by the home it does depart an impression.

“I simply thought public service was a splendidly thrilling and rewarding and significant solution to be on this planet,” he recalled.

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Rep. Morris Okay. Udall, D-Ariz., pictured on this undated file picture, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.

Smith had an identical expertise. His father, Milan Smith, served within the Eisenhower administration, so he spent his early years in Washington, D.C., and was nicely conscious of the political prominence of his distant cousins Stewart and Mo Udall. When he thought of getting into Oregon state politics, he and his mom paid a go to to her cousin Mo, who was hospitalized with Parkinson’s illness.

“I informed him I used to be pondering of working for the Oregon state Senate. And he didn’t make any remark of remorse that I used to be a Republican, however he inspired me to do it.”

Lee, who additionally remembers dropping by cousin Mo’s congressional workplace when the youthful Lee was a Senate web page, added that he by no means felt any expectation to enter politics and that the Lee-Udall legacy in Congress isn’t a consider his looking for a 3rd time period.

“I can let you know with out hesitation that has by no means entered my thoughts,” he mentioned.

Mark Udall believes future generations of the household will doubtless get into politics when the timing is true for them. He didn’t determine to run for political workplace till his mid-40s and the method of campaigning didn’t come naturally.

“I had climbed the third-highest mountain the world, however I used to be too scared to go knock on doorways,” he mentioned with fun.


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Mike Lee addresses the group after being elected to the U.S. Senate as his spouse, Sharon, left, watches throughout a Republican Occasion gathering on the Salt Lake Hilton on Nov. 2, 2010.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret Information

The long run technology of Lee-Udall politicians will likely be following ancestors who affected the lives of practically everybody within the West and lots of across the nation, observers say.

“If you happen to dwell on the Wasatch Entrance and all the best way to Tucson, you’re affected by them daily by way of water as a result of they received each the Central Utah Venture and the Central Arizona Venture funded,” mentioned retired historical past professor Ross Peterson, who has researched and written in regards to the lives of Stewart and Mo Udall.

Endangered species protections, nationwide parks and recreation areas, wild and scenic river designations, and wilderness designations had been created and expanded beneath the watch of the 2 brothers.

Whereas they had been each icons within the environmental motion, the knowledge of the bold hydroelectric dam constructing throughout the Sixties that fueled ongoing financial development within the West is questioned by some at the moment. Researchers have since discovered extra in regards to the affect the initiatives have had on fisheries, and the megadrought afflicting the area the previous 20 years has policymakers rethinking the right way to quench persevering with development with a shrinking water provide.

Smith, who misplaced a son to suicide stemming from psychological sickness, sponsored laws to place federal funding for psychological well being on par with different well being care wants and altered the talk over psychological well being in Congress.

Peterson mentioned the household’s efforts by way of nationwide coverage and nonprofit initiatives to proper wrongs finished to Native American tribes by white settlers started when their grandfather Levi Udall wrote the bulk opinion for the Arizona Supreme Courtroom extending the appropriate to vote for Native People residing on reservations.

The Lee affect on the regulation didn’t cease on the state degree. Smith’s brother Milan Smith Jr. was appointed to ninth Circuit Courtroom of Appeals in 2006, the place he wrote a unanimous opinion in 2020 discovering Nevada’s COVID-19 restrictions violated non secular freedom.

Probably the most influential within the authorized area was arguably Rex E. Lee, who’s regarded by conservative and liberal authorized students because the mannequin solicitor normal, mentioned retired D.C. Circuit Decide Thomas Griffith.

Whereas Rex E. Lee is commonly famous for successful a excessive proportion of the circumstances he argued for the federal government earlier than the Supreme Courtroom, Griffith mentioned he was admired by his successors for skillfully and balancing the pursuits of the administration and the nation at giant.

“Typically the solicitor normal is known as the ‘tenth Justice.’ That’s overstating it slightly bit, however there’s a historical past of the Supreme Courtroom having the ability to belief the solicitor normal,” Griffith mentioned. “And as a lot as anyone, Rex is liable for that.” 

The solicitor normal wasn’t the one Lee or Udall to have impressed and influenced Griffith. He lived throughout the road from Congressman Mo Udall, who gave the 15-year-old neighbor boy his first job on Capitol Hill as a summer time intern.

Being too younger to drive wasn’t an issue for Griffith.

“Each morning that summer time, Mo Udall would come up in his used Mustang convertible and honk the horn and little Tom Griffith would sit within the automotive with him and drive right down to Capitol Hill. After which at 5:30 at evening, he’d come by and say, “Let’s go dwelling,” Griffith recalled. “It was superior.”

Whereas their politics diverged, they stayed shut till Udall died in 1998. Griffith, a Republican, was serving as chief authorized counsel to the Senate and was requested by Udall’s widow to take a seat with the household throughout a memorial service within the Capitol. When Senate Democratic chief Tom Daschle came to visit to pay his respects he gave Griffith a quizzical look, prompting the Republican appointee to clarify his awkward state of affairs.

“I informed him, ‘I don’t need you to inform this to (Majority Chief Trent) Lott. I used to work for Mo Udall and he’s one in all my heroes.’” Griffith recalled. “And he checked out me and mentioned, ‘OK, our secret.’” 

Editor’s observe: Matthew Brown’s spouse, Barbara Jones Brown, is co-author with Richard E. Turley Jr. of a forthcoming e book on the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Bloodbath and legal trials of John D. Lee.



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