Late yesterday, Senator Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, announced that she would not seek reelection. Her decision both surprised and confused political watchers in Washington. She had a healthy campaign war chest of almost $3.4 million; was popular in the State, she won in 2006—a good year for Democrats—with 74 percent of the vote; and faced a weak challenger. So why did Senator Snowe choose to retire? Apparently she was fed up with gridlock in Washington.
In a letter to her constituents explaining her decision not to run, Senator Snowe cited the “atmosphere of partisanship” and the “’my way or the highway’ ideologies” that have overtaken Congress and the campaign process. Rather than spend another six long years searching for elusive bipartisan solutions, Senator Snowe evidently decided she instead wanted to focus her energies on other, more productive activities. Who can blame her?
It is disheartening that such a respected public servant would choose not serve because the ability of Congress to find common solutions to America’s most pressing problems has completely deteriorated. Senator Snowe was one of the few remaining Senators that regularly worked with her colleagues across the aisle and would vote for legislation that was overwhelming opposed by her own party. She was aggressively courted by Senate Democrats to work on some of the major legislative proposals considered in Congress over the past few years, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus bill); TARP, the bank bailout; and Dodd-Frank financial reform. As a result, she often angered the more conservative wing of her party and was derisively referred to as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) because of her impure ideology and willingness to embrace bipartisanship.
However, her decision to work with Senate leadership on significant legislation provided her a unique opportunity to leave a lasting imprint on those bills, reflecting her own positions and interests of her constituents—an opportunity lost to most of her colleagues. In sum, Senator Snowe worked tirelessly to do her job: she represented her constituents and attempted to solve America's problems. The Republican Party, and the entire Senate, will sorely miss the moderating influence of Senator Snowe.