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Cooler heads heading home

Posted: March 6, 2012 9:22 a.m.
Updated: March 7, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Add Olympia Snowe’s name to the list of senators exiting Washington D.C., in 2012. The moderate senator from Maine announced last Tuesday that she will not be seeking re-election to the Senate where she has served for nearly two decades.

So why won’t she be running? It’s not because voters in Maine wouldn’t award her a fourth term. She’s won all three of her Senate campaigns with at least 60 percent of the vote.

It’s not because she’s getting up in age and feels like it’s time to retire. At age 65, she’s actually younger than 44 of her colleagues.   

Snowe provided the reason for her departure in a Washington Post piece published last Thursday -- the ever-increasing polarization and dysfunction of the U.S. Senate.

In her op-ed, she noted the Senate was established, in the minds of founding fathers like James Madison, to be a body where all voices could be reasonably heard and considered.

As Madison wrote in 1787, the Senate is to “consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom” than the other congressional branch, the House of Representatives.

In plainer language, cooler heads should always prevail.

But in Snowe’s mind, and likely in the minds of other retiring centrist senators like Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Virginia’s Jim Webb, that’s no longer the case.

This evolution (or perhaps devolution) of the Senate must be particularly frustrating for Snowe who’s considered by many to be among the most even-handed compromisers in Washington.

But as Jonathan Allen stated last Wednesday in an article for Politico, if a congressional member steps out from the shelter of his or her party and seeks compromise, he or she is easily labeled as too conciliatory or even as a turncoat.

It seems evident from her electoral support that few voters in Maine think of Snowe as a turncoat or traitor, even though some in Washington try to paint her as such. 

Time Magazine listed her as one of the nation’s best senators, noting that she goes back to Maine nearly every weekend, often stopping into small towns to chat with citizens.

Working on Capitol Hill for local issues, she has successfully fought to keep open two Maine military bases recommended for closure and helped pass a bill that helped low-income residents pay their heating bills, which is of strong importance in the state because of its frigid winters.

Because she at times strays from her party’s dogma on national issues, she’s been called a Republican-in-name-only by some and a do-nothing senator by others.

Jonathan Cait of New York Magazine, for example, chastised Snowe for compromising too much on tough policy issues and for not sticking up for what she believes.

But it seems unlikely that her moderate mindset blocks her from having a fighting spirit.

Snowe is actually the most winning politician in Maine since 1946, serving two terms in the Maine State House; one term in the Maine Senate; eight terms in the U.S. House; and three terms in the U.S. Senate.

She accomplished all this in light of being orphaned at the age of 9 and losing her first husband in a car crash in 1973.

It seems one of her most memorable and lasting accomplishments will be her ability to work across the aisle, particularly as part of the so-called “Gang of 14” compromise in 2005.

Seven Democrats and seven Republicans came together that year to work out a non-partisan agreement over the then-hotly debated issue of presidential appointees to federal courts.

It was part of a sense of political camaraderie that continues to erode in light of the increasingly divisive and partisan nature of Washington.    

No wonder people like Sen. Snowe decide to pack up their bags and head back home.  

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