Snowe: Finding ‘Common Ground’

Photograph by Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, arrives at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 15, 2012.

Olympia Snowe, the moderate Maine Republican who retired from the Senate five months ago, already is out with a book detailing some changes she would make to curb the partisanship and polarization she says have consumed Congress.

In “Fighting for Common Ground,” Snowe writes that the Senate “has come to resemble the House, where tactics like utilizing rules and prerogatives to maximum political advantage or to make a point are more common.”

Snowe, who served 16 years in the House and 18 years in the Senate, would make changes to the filibuster process beyond what the Senate adopted early this year. She’d withhold congressional pay if annual appropriations bills aren’t enacted on time, adopt a biennial budget process and create a bipartisan congressional leadership committee on which high-ranking Democrats and Republicans would discuss legislation with the president.

Pro-Republican for much of the post-Civil War period, the six-state New England region today has zero Republicans among its 21 House members and two Republicans among 12 senators.

  “It’s amazing the positive things that can happen when you get people talking in a room together!” Snowe writes.

She’d open up primary elections to allow more participation by independent voters. She says commissions probably would do a better job than partisan state legislators in redrawing congressional districts that would elect more centrists.

Snowe bemoans the losses of compromise-minded Republicans in Senate primary elections, including Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware in 2010 and Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana in 2012. Democrats won both seats over flawed Republican nominees.

“Achieving a governing majority and insisting on ideological purity are mutually exclusive objectives,” Snowe writes. The Republican Party “drifted away from the mainstream” during her 34-year tenure in Congress, she said, and she left this year “very concerned about the direction the party was headed.”

Some other nuggets from Snowe’s book:

In 1986, she tried to convince Condoleezza Rice, then a Stanford University academic, to run for Congress. “I told her she was dynamite — everything wrapped in one package. But she decided against it,” Snowe writes.

Snowe lost her mother at eight, her father at nine, her first husband at 26 and a 20-year-old stepson in 1991.

“Being orphaned at the age of nine forced me to become an extremely self-sufficient little girl and undoubtedly formed the way I look at the world,” she writes. “I believe in individual responsibility and the notion that you do what you can for yourself. My concept of government’s role in people’s lives is that it is limited but legitimate, and essential when people have nowhere else to turn.”

As Snowe grieved the death of Peter Snowe, to whom she was married from 1969 until his 1973 death in an automobile accident, she says, her thoughts “naturally gravitated to those others who shared similar tribulations. It occurred to me, what do other young widows do, especially those who have children?”

“This realization became the driving force behind my early legislative focus in Congress and fueled my sense of responsibility to champion issues of importance to women.”

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