Thursday December 06, 2012 | 04:04 PM

WASHINGTON – Sen. Susan Collins paid tribute to Sen. Olympia Snowe on Thursday, describing the retiring Maine Republican as having “set the gold standard for public service.”

“From the State House to the U.S. Capitol, Olympia has built an outstanding reputation as an informed, thoughtful and effective legislator,” Collins said on the Senate floor. “She can always be counted on as the leader with integrity who pursued solutions and who had no interest in just scoring partisan political points. It is Olympia’s character that has made all the difference.”

(Click here to see her floor speech. Collins' speech begins at the 43:40 mark).

Snowe is leaving office in early January after 34 years in Congress, more than half of those in the Senate. Snowe’s retirement – prompted by her frustration with the hyper-partisanship in Washington – opened the door for former Maine Gov. Angus King, an independent who will caucus with the Democrats.

During Collins' floor speech, she predicted Snowe will “join the pantheon of great leaders” from Maine, such as former Sens. Margaret Chase Smith, Edmund Muskie, George Mitchell and William Cohen. But she also recalled an incident that Collins said speaks to Snowe’s character in private as well as in public.

As a Republican fundraiser was wrapping up, attendees encountered a disabled man panhandling for money. Everyone else passed the man by “as if he were invisible,” Collins said.

“Olympia went over to this destitute man – on crutches with one leg – and she not only handed him some money, but she took the time to talk with him,” Collins said. “And I think that tells you so much about who Olympia Snowe is. Her kindness to this individual when everyone else was passing him by, her kindness to him when no one was watching ... was a private act that told so much about her character.”

Snowe and Collins have worked closely together for the past 16 years but, like some others teams of senators, have also had, at times, what some have described as an icy relationship. But Collins said Thursday that she was “grateful for her leadership and her friendship,” adding that she believed Snowe “will continue to influence national policy for many years to come.”

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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