Rather than sending bomb-throwers and partisan mouthpieces to Washington, D.C., Mainers tend to elect statespeople who are widely revered across the political spectrum, particularly to the U.S. Senate. Among that ilk are Margaret Chase Smith, Ed Muskie, Bill Cohen and George Mitchell. That tradition continues today, with Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, who rate as consensus-seeking, moderate-minded officials in our nation’s hyperpartisan capital.

Built shortly after the Civil War, the U.S. Custom House in Portland is the most impressive federally owned facility in Maine. John Ewing/Staff Photographer, File

One individual who magnificently represented Maine’s tradition of integrity and compromise for over three decades was Olympia Snowe, who stepped aside from elected office in 2013, but whose voice and values remain essential today.

Undeniably, Mainers appreciate Olympia. A U.S. representative from the 2nd Congressional District from 1979 through 1995, Snowe won nearly each election by 10 points or more. She was first elected to the U.S. Senate statewide by a nearly 25-point margin, and only continued to gain popularity at the voting booth, earning 69 percent of the vote in 2000 and 74 percent in 2006. She was first lady of the state of Maine from 1989 to 1995.  And, impressively, Snowe was the first woman in U.S. history to serve in both houses of a state Legislature and both houses of Congress.

I had the privilege of working for Sen. Snowe for seven years; no one worked harder on behalf of their constituents during my time in Washington than Sen. Snowe. What mattered to Sen. Snowe each and every day was what was best for Maine and its people. She continues to support the development of the next generation of Maine leaders through the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute.

Snowe’s legislative accomplishments are too varied to list, but a simple review of the highlights would include partnering with then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill early in her career to pass the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program into law; shaping our nation’s tax policy and health care (particularly women’s health) law as the first Republican woman to secure a full-term seat on the Senate Finance Committee, and protecting Maine workers and jobs by leading the charge to keep both Bath Iron Works and Kittery Portsmouth Naval Shipyard open for business.

Arguably, she has done as much, or more, to benefit the economic health and well-being of Mainers than almost any single individual in Maine’s history, and she carried out her responsibilities in a considerate and compassionate manner.


As Susan Carroll of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics told the Press Herald’s Kevin Miller at the time of Snowe’s retirement, “She really has been a pioneer in the same way Margaret Chase Smith was a pioneer in a different era.”

Both Margaret Chase Smith and Ed Muskie have federal buildings named after them in Bangor and Augusta, respectively. I humbly suggest that it is time to honor Snowe’s legacy by naming the U.S. Custom House in Portland for her to honor her decades of dedicated service to the people of Maine.

Built shortly after the Civil War, the U.S. Custom House is a testament to how beautiful federal architecture can be, and is the most impressive federally owned facility in the state of Maine. Maintained by the U.S. General Services Administration, the Custom House recently underwent a major restoration project and remains a landmark in the Old Port.  It once housed the office of another Maine icon, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, when he served as surveyor of the Port of Portland.

According to the current rules for the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which would consider legislation related to naming of public facilities, buildings can be named after “former Members of Congress over 70 years of age.” The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which is the other chamber’s counterpart, does not have any similar restrictions on the naming of buildings.

While a small and symbolic tribute to Snowe’s legacy, the “Olympia J. Snowe United States Custom House” would be a fitting recognition that reminds generations of Mainers to come about the vital work she undertook to help Maine overcome challenging times and ensure a brighter future for its people. I encourage the Maine congressional delegation to introduce legislation making this a reality.

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