Talk about good timing. One minute former Maine U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and her Bipartisan Policy Center were calling last week for open primaries in congressional races, and the next an open primary knocked off a tea party extremist in Mississippi.

“It was fortuitous,” agreed Snowe on Friday while waiting to board a plane home to Maine from Washington, D.C.

It’s also proof beyond any doubt that when you open a primary up to any and all voters, a moderate incumbent like Mississippi’s Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran can fend off a strong challenge from a tea party extremist like Chris McDaniel.

Thanks to a state primary system that allowed Mississippi Democrats to cross over and cast what was for many the first Republican ballot of their lives, Cochran squeaked through the two-person runoff that many thought would tip McDaniel’s way, putting yet another anti-government ideologue in a position of power on Capitol Hill.

“I certainly celebrated Thad Cochran’s win,” Snowe said. “I thought it was a tremendous victory – and hopefully that can continue. Because you can’t continue to have this scorched-earth approach to governing.”

No argument there – at least from the people Snowe’s been talking to since she stunned the political world and departed the U.S. Senate in 2012. Like Snowe, her audiences have had it with the partisan gridlock, gerrymandered congressional districts and deepening cynicism that pass these days for what is supposed to be a government of, by and for the people.

“It’s universal,” said Snowe, describing the disgust she encounters as she now traverses the nation preaching political reform. “I mean seriously, it doesn’t matter who you talk to. It’s abundantly universal.”

Last week’s release of a 112-page prescription for all that ails our politics these days marked a major milestone for Snowe and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform.

Co-chaired by Snowe, former U.S. Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Trent Lott of Mississippi, former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and former Agriculture Secretary and Kansas U.S. Rep. Dan Glickman (three Republicans and two Democrats, for those counting), the commission aptly titled the report “Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen Our Democracy.”

It is, by any reasonable measure, good medicine. The question is, can Snowe and her fellow reformers get the nation in general, and our elected leaders in particular, to swallow it?

The report follows four public forums held across the country by the commission over the past 18 months. It calls for an array of changes most Americans would stand up and applaud.

To name a few:

• A five-day workweek for Congress – three weeks at a time with a fourth week off to head home and tend to one’s district.

 An end to Senate filibusters on motions to proceed, thus allowing legislation to make it at least to the Senate floor before the minority-party roadblocks go up.

 A national congressional primary day, along with semi- or wide-open primaries to bolster voter turnout and make it more difficult for extreme minorities to hijack a sleeping party’s nomination.

 Fully transparent redistricting commissions in each state that ensure bipartisan support, reversing the steady decline in the number of truly competitive congressional elections.

 A full year of public service – be it military, running for office or working with a local church or nonprofit – for all Americans between the ages of 18 and 28.

 Disclosure of all political donations, political action committees and other outside groups included.

Good stuff. No magic wands, to be sure, but certainly worthy of the widespread media coverage it received last week.

So now what? How do Snowe and her fellow commissioners turn at least a few of these lofty goals into actual change?

Two ways, replied Snowe.

There’s the inside game: Lott and Daschle have already approached the current Senate leadership about rule changes on the first day of the next Congress, Snowe said. (A two-year ban on lobbying by ex-senators prevents her, for now, from doing some arm-twisting of her own.)

Then there’s the outside game: If the tea party and others on the far edges of the political spectrum can use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to hyperinflate their influence, Snowe notes, then why can’t an increasingly frustrated middle?

“The connectivity and interactivity from all of this is very significant,” Snowe said. “I tell audiences, ‘Listen, you don’t have to use a rotary-dial phone – it’s not one phone call at a time. You have the power here!”

Looking ahead, Snowe hopes the commission’s punch list will sprout (starting on college campuses) into relentless pressure on federal and state lawmakers to stop the self-interested brinkmanship and start doing the right thing. And if they don’t, cue the petition drives and citizen-initiated referendums.

“Because government isn’t working for the average American,” Snowe said. “We know that. It’s not working.”

Some watch Snowe, as she campaigns for reform these days, and smell payback.

In the months before she decided to step down from the Senate, after all, the political grapevine crackled with reports of sometimes nasty attacks on her by the tea partiers at Republican gatherings throughout Maine.

Add to that this month’s 2nd District congressional Republican primary victory by the far-right Bruce Poliquin over the more moderate former state Senate President Kevin Raye, who once worked as Snowe’s chief of staff.

So, is this personal?

“No,” Snowe replied with a chuckle. “Obviously, I don’t like what’s happening to the Republican Party – and what’s happened to it. And hopefully it can be transformed.”

But there’s a bigger malfunction here that goes far beyond one party or the other, she says. And the longer average Americans just throw up their hands and hit the “off” switch, the darker the horizon grows.

“We really are at a tipping point,” said Snowe. “And we’ve got to reverse the tide now before it becomes a permanent political way of life.”

Go ahead and call her a dreamer.

Cast a pox on the whole political system and dismiss this exercise as just another headlong run into those brick walls in Augusta and on Capitol Hill.

Or better yet, take a virtual walk around www.bipartisanpolicy.org and at least consider the possibility that this country’s vast political middle, when it so chooses, carries more clout than any extremist faction ever will.

Just ask Thad Cochran.