December 30, 2012

U.S. Senate transitions: Old-style Republican transcended party politics

Sen. Olympia Snowe shaped tax and health care laws and helped break down gender biases.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

Olympia Snowe
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Sen. Olympia Snowe, named by Time magazine as one of 100 most influential people in the world in 2010, smiles after delivering her farewell speech to the Senate.

File photo/The Associated Press

Olympia Snowe
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A video image provided by Senate Television shows retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, giving her farewell speech on Dec. 13. Snowe said she remains hopeful that the Senate can overcome “excessive political polarization” and work together to reach consensus on important issues facing the nation.

The Associated Press/Senate Television

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who has served longer than any other woman, recently called Snowe “a cherished friend and a crucial partner on so many issues,” particularly women’s health.

With Mikulski and others, Snowe led the efforts to force the National Institutes of Health to include women in federally funded medical research and clinical trials in 1991. Later, the pair again worked with other Democrats and Republicans to establish the Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH, which in turn led to groundbreaking research and medical treatment for diseases such as breast cancer.

Carroll of the Center for American Women and Politics said Snowe leaves behind a legacy.

“I think she is definitely going to be remembered,” Carroll said. “She really has been a pioneer in the same way Margaret Chase Smith was a pioneer in a different era.”


Snowe’s rise in national politics came despite a number of personal tragedies. She was orphaned by age 9. She entered politics in 1973 after winning the seat left vacant when her first husband, state Rep. Peter Snowe, was killed in a car crash.

After her election to Congress in 1978, Snowe found a personal and political partner in John “Jock” McKernan, Maine’s other U.S. House member and a fellow Republican. The two kept their romance quiet – at least publicly – until after McKernan was elected governor in 1986.

Navy Secretary Mabus – himself a former governor – recalled with a laugh how he was present for the Maine couple’s first public date.

“She and Jock showed up at the governor’s dinner at the White House together and sent everybody’s tongues wagging,” Mabus told the small group gathered in Snowe’s office last week.

At the time of her retirement announcement, the company formerly headed by McKernan that runs for-profit colleges across the country – Education Management Corp. – was being sued by the Justice Department for allegedly improperly obtaining billions of dollars in federal aid. Snowe has said the controversy did not play a role in her retirement decision.

And in her farewell address to the Senate this month, Snowe thanked her husband and said the couple never regretted their frenzied, sometimes separate lives.

“When Jock was governor while I was serving in the House of Representatives, we used to joke that our idea of quality time together was listening to each other’s speeches,” Snowe said.


Boxes littered Snowe’s office suite in the Russell Senate Office Building last week as staff cleared the shelves, walls and filing cabinets. Seated in her still-decorated personal office, Snowe talked generally about her plan going forward.

One of her first tasks will be to write a book about her political career and the importance of collaboration.

Earlier this year, she transferred $1.2 million from her campaign fund to establish the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute. Another $800,000 went to Olympia’s List, a political action committee with the stated goal of supporting “consensus-building” political candidates.

Between her book, Olympia’s List and speeches, Snowe said she believes she can continue to contribute to the political discourse as she works from the outside to change the “dysfunction and the gridlock that have overtaken the institutions of government.”

“This is not a side issue,” Snowe said. “It is the issue because, ultimately, you can’t get from here to there – as they say in Maine – unless you are working together.”

In a floor speech earlier this month honoring Snowe, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed to anticipate that he and other political leaders hadn’t heard the last from her.

“We will wish you all the best in the next phase of your life. And as you think of what to put in your memoir, I would only ask one thing: please, go easy on us,” McConnell said.

Washington Bureau  Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:


Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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Sen. Snowe shows a picture of the Navy destroyer under construction at Bath Iron Works to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who presented Snowe with the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award.

Kevin Miller/Staff Writer


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