Thursday, December 5, 2013
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is getting lots of national media questions in the final months of her 34-year career in Congress.
It’s the kind of attention she has attracted repeatedly in recent years as one of the last, lonely moderates in Congress.
Bloomberg Businessweek is the latest to quote Snowe as part of an “exit interview” with four departing members of the House and Senate. The recurring topic of conversation is the same one Snowe cited in February when she made her surprise retirement announcement – partisan polarization.
Snowe, for example, was asked what it was really like to go against her party's leadership and vote with Democrats.
“People within your party used to understand that it is essential. People have to represent either their district or their state on the issues that matter and take those positions accordingly. But today there is no reward for that. In fact, there is this party adherence, and as a result if we don’t get past the party platforms that are offered by either side of the political aisle, then we can’t solve the problem. And we are not transcending those differences. That is a huge departure from the past,” she said.
As outspoken as Snowe has become about the problems in Washington, it was Rep Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., who had the harshest words. And he was aiming them at the public and the media as much as the parties.
“It used to be you had real friends on the other side of the aisle. It’s not like that anymore. Society has changed. The public is to blame as well. I think the people have gotten dumber. I don’t know that I would’ve said that out loud pre-my announcement that I was going to be leaving…. But I think that’s true. I mean everything has changed. The media has changed. We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalists on television don’t know the first thing about journalism. They are just there stirring up a hockey game,” Ackerman told Bloomberg.
Snowe didn’t jump on that bandwagon and blame the public. But she did agree that the whole legislative process has been “dumbed down.” Intelligence and thoughtfulness are no longer appreciated, she said.
“Legislating isn’t easy on these complex matters,” Snowe told Bloomberg. “You can’t just instantaneously come up with solutions to problems. Somehow we have dumbed down the process. Somehow we think, “Oh gosh, are you for or against?” Well, geez, it just came up. Can I give it some thought? Can I think about it? Can I read about it? Maybe I should learn more about the facts on the issue. But there is no time, no deference paid to thoughtfulness in the legislative process today.”
While she didn't place blame, Snowe did say it ill be the up to the public to demand changes.
Open Season targets all of Maine's political wildlife, from Portland city government to the donkeys, elephants and independents stalking the Statehouse and U.S. Capitol.
John Richardson joined the Press Herald in 1990 after working as a reporter in New Jersey. He has covered a variety of beats, including marine issues, the environment and health care. He is now covering politics and focusing on Maine's U.S. Senate race.
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On Twitter: @jrichmaine
Colin Woodard has covered politics and elections for more than two decades, from Bosnia and Bucharest to Washington, D.C., Augusta, and Portland City Hall. He has written for a wide range of national and international publications and is the author of four books, including "American Nations," a history of North America's regional cultures. He joined the Portland Press Herald at the end of April and covers political finance and lobbying, among other things.
Colin can be reached at 791-6317 or email@example.com
Susan Cover has covered Maine politics for 10 years and worked in Kansas, Ohio and Rhode Island as a reporter. This year, she is focusing on covering the same-sex marriage debate for MaineToday Media.
Susan can be reached at 621-5643 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Shepherd joined MaineToday Media in May 2012 after graduating from the University of Maine in Orono, where he edited The Maine Campus, the student newspaper there. Until November he'll be writing the Truth Test, a recurring feature analyzing political statements and advertising.
Michael can be reached at 621-5632 or email@example.com