In June of 2014, Senators Mark Udall, Ron Wyden and Rand Paul offered a rare show of election-year unanimity when they penned a joint statement arguing that “it is more important than ever to let Congress and the administration know that Americans will reject half-measures that could still allow the government to collect millions of Americans’ records without any individual suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing.”
Udall and Wyden, both Democrats, and Paul, a presumed contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, declared, “It is time to end the dragnet—and to affirm that we can keep our nation secure without trampling on and abandoning Americans’ constitutional rights.”
Essential to that initiative, the senators suggested, is “a groundswell of public support for reform.”
Just five months later, the strength of that groundswell will be tested in Colorado. Udall, the senior senator from that state, is in the fight of his political life with Republican Congressman Cory Gardner. It’s a brutal, high-stakes battle, and polls suggest Gardner has a slight advantage.
If Udall loses, “it would be a significant loss for the movement” to hold the NSA to account and to renew the privacy rights of Americans, says Laura Murphy, who heads the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“What Udall has is the institutional memory, and the relationships in the civil liberties community, in the Democratic Party and in the tech industry so that we don’t have to start over again with someone new,” Murphy told The Hill, which has highlighted concerns about what losing Udall would mean to the fight to restrain the NSA.
Constitution Project senior counsel Scott Roehm summed those concerns up when he said, “Were Senator Udall to lose, I think he would be sorely missed. He was one of the earliest voices for meaningful surveillance reform even before the Snowden leaks.”
Why so much concern about one senator?
It has a lot to do with the courage and consistency of Udall’s objections to NSA abuses. The Colorado senator has been a genuine watchdog: calling for Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan to resign after it was revealed that CIA operatives had been spying on the communications of Senate staffers, challenging his colleagues to establish effective oversight of intelligence agencies, demanding meaningful checks and balances and criticizing President Obama for failing to end the excesses of the Bush-Cheney era.