February 29, 2012

Snowe decision rocks political landscape

Sen. Snowe stuns Maine and the political world, saying she’s tired of partisanship and won’t run again.

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

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Snowe retires

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In Olympia Snowe's words: “I have no doubt I would have won re-election. ... I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

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Snowe's mother and father died when she was a young child, and Snowe grew up with and aunt and uncle in Auburn.

Her first husband, Peter Snowe, was killed in a car crash in 1973. Peter Snowe was a Maine House member, and Snowe then ran for his seat.

She married then-Maine Republican Gov. John "Jock" McKernan in 1989 and ran for the Senate in 1994, after Democratic Sen. George Mitchell announced his retirement.

In the wake of Snowe's departure, the only declared candidate in the GOP primary is Scott D'Amboise of Lisbon Falls, a health care technician and small-business owner who is affiliated with the tea party. National GOP leaders who have expressed misgivings about D'Amboise's viability as a candidate are searching for alternatives, but they face a March 15 filing deadline.

In Maine, the four Democrats vying to win their party's Senate nomination are hoping Snowe's exit paves a path toward a Democratic victory in the fall. But her decision will almost certainly attract other, higher-profile Democrats.

Currently running for the Democratic nomination are state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town, State Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth and Portland homebuilder Benjamin Pollard.

Nathan Gonzales, of the nonpartisan, Washington-based Rothenberg Political Report, said Snowe's decision "dramatically shifts her seat from the 'Safe Republican' column and places it firmly in the center of the fight for the Senate majority."

He said Snowe faced only nominal opposition from D'Amboise in the GOP primary, and that national Democrats, focused on preserving their Senate majority by defending at-risk seats elsewhere, never viewed Snowe's seat as a target.

"But that has all changed now," Gonzales said. "With just two weeks to go before the March 15 filing deadline, both parties are going back to the drawing board."

Snowe has been decrying the acrimonious state of Congress for a considerable time.

Last August, she told MaineToday Media's editorial board that she has never seen a legislative body as ineffective as the current Senate.

"Unfortunately, everything is concentrated in political messaging, and the art of governing and legislating has been virtually lost," Snowe said.

John Baughman, a political science professor at Bates College, said he takes at face value Snowe's reason for departing from the political stage.

"As one of the very few remaining moderates in the Senate, Sen. Snowe's vote was pivotal on one major bill after another," Baughman said. "In an earlier era when there were real negotiations between the parties, that was a position of power and influence for much of her career.

"Lately, however, the polarization had become so strong that real bipartisan negotiations were rare and difficult (and) at that point, being the pivotal vote between the two camps had become exhausting rather than empowering," he said.

Snowe said she and her husband are both in good health and that she was confident of her ability to win a fourth term in the Senate.

"Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term," Snowe said. "So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail."

Snowe was furious last spring when D'Amboise accused her husband, former Gov. McKernan, of improper business practices and called on Snowe to resign. She charged D'Amboise with running a smear campaign.

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Snowe retires

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