Tuesday February 19, 2013 | 10:14 PM

WASHINGTON – The Bipartisan Policy Center on Wednesday formally announced the creation of a Commission on Political Reform that will be co-chaired by newly retired Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

The new commission, which Snowe and former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman first discussed in a USA Today op-ed posted on Monday evening, will focus on understanding the causes of the current political divide and recommending reforms.

“Our body politic is ailing, suffering gridlock and polarization so severe that Americans are questioning whether their government can perform even its basic functions, let alone address the big issues," Snowe said in a statement released Wednesday. "We think it’s time to give our political system some ‘CPR,’ and we want to help the American people make it happen."

Snowe will join the Bipartisan Policy Center -- a Washington, DC-based think tank co-founded by former Maine Sen. George Mitchell -- as a senior fellow. The Commission on Political Reform will hold its first in a series of “National Conversations on American Unity" next month in California.

The other commission co-chairs are: former Sen. Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat who served as both Senate majority and minority leader; former Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican who also held the two top Senate positions; and former Sen. Kirk Kempthorne, a Republican who also served as governor of Idaho and was Secretary of the Interior during President George W. Bush’s second term.

“Average Americans of differing political and cultural views need to begin talking with one another, just as politicians in Washington must, if we are to bridge the partisan divide and compel action,” Snowe and Glickman wrote in the op-ed for USA Today.

“Today's heightened divisions should not doom America to gridlock. The political system has to function despite this divide. To help move us forward, our commission will therefore make policy recommendations in three areas: electoral system reform, congressional reform and encouragement of greater public service.”

Snowe and Glickman wrote that, under the current electoral system, parties nominate candidates whose views are too far to the left or too far to the right of most Americans. And in Congress, power is “concentrated in the hands of a few leaders,” minimizing the role of most members.

Snowe cited her frustration with the polarization in Congress and lack of collaboration as the primary reason for her retirement. She is currently working on a memoir about her life and the 34 years she spent in Congress.



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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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