Senator Olympia Snowe: Maine's Maverick
Maine Senator Olympia Snowe has announced that she will not run for reelection. In our 2007 interview with Snowe, she discussed how she handled being a maverick in her own party.
“If you find yourself at odds with your president and your party on a key issue, and you feel differently, then it’s important to express yourself on that matter and to say why.”
“If you’re the deciding vote and can make the difference between passage and defeat, you want to be certain that you’re moving in the right direction and have given it a lot of forethought. That’s not always easy. You don’t choose to be in that position. But ultimately, if it becomes a critical issue, then you just have to do it.
“I had a great role model in the late Margaret Chase Smith, who served Maine for more than 30 years between the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. She set an example for independence. Her independence was legendary, and she certainly paved a path of integrity and honesty.
“I always think back to my early days in public life when I served in the statehouse in Augusta, Maine. I found that politics and public life were constructive endeavors. The best way — and the ultimate goal — for us elected officials was to solve problems. And I think that’s true for those of us who represent states in New England. It makes a material difference not only for the states we represent, but for our country. So often they say, ‘Moderate Republicans are an endangered species’ — and we are, if you look at our numbers — but I think we represent what I call ‘the sensible center.’
“When I came to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979, I worked in a bipartisan coalition to develop budgets that applied cuts fairly. We were trying to reduce the deficit, and we had a skyrocketing national debt. I knew that the severity of cuts in specific programs, whether it was Medicaid or low-income fuel assistance, would have a disproportionate impact on my state and my region.
“And the same was true for southern Democrats, even though they had different goals. I was part of a group in the early 1980s called the Gypsy Moths — moderate Republicans from the Northeast. And we worked with the Boll Weevils, the southern Democrats. What we did was essentially work across party lines, build political bridges, and develop policy solutions that worked effectively.
“I believed it was important to evaluate the facts, look at the issue, and determine whether or not this was the most effective solution to the problem at hand, irrespective of whether it was a Republican, Democratic, conservative, or liberal idea. The question was ‘Is it a good idea?’
“I encourage people to speak out and support individuals who are willing to express and exhibit independence — who are willing to cross the party lines. My greatest concern about the political system today is that there are too few people willing to do that.
“That’s unfortunate for America, and there’s so much division that characterizes the political process and also the campaigns. The American people rightfully expect more from their elected officials. They deserve more.
“The voters sent a message to Congress in November, rejecting partisan politics and casting their ballots for moderation and independence. It is unfortunate that despite their long history of independence, lawmakers like Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio were unable to avoid the wave of change brought on by the national dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and the party’s inability and unwillingness to address the concerns most important to the American people. It is certainly a reflection of today’s political climate rather than their dedicated service.”