Republican Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement from the political scene, catching many of her colleagues off-guard.
"I have no doubt I would have won re-election," she said in a statement released yesterday. "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."
Snowe has been an example of bipartisanship, often breaking from the Republican party and voting with Democrats; her record shows that she voted with Republicans 74 percent of the time. She is the first woman to ever serve in both chambers of government, the House of Representatives and Senate, and only the second female Senator for Maine.
In 2006, Time magazine named her "The Caretaker" and one of the top 10 U.S. Senators. "Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every policy debate in Washington, but while Snowe is a major player on national issues, she is also known as one of the most effective advocates for her constituents," Time noted.
Snowe has served on several Senate committees including: Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. She has been a driving force on the committees she serves and has worked hard to ensure a partisan effort on legislation.
In the past few years, though, partisanship has dramatically lessened the effectiveness of the Senate. "Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term," Snowe explained. "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."
Her retirement came as a surprise to several colleagues, including Maine Republican Chairman Charlie Webster. "I was surprised. I know that she's been quite frustrated with the civility in Washington and the fact that she's a bridge builder - and it was more and more difficult to do that. It's going to shake things up in Maine politics," he noted.
"We'll miss her," said New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. "She's a good, good lady and an example of…sometimes how the roughness of the political world can affect things. She's great, and she'll be missed by people on both sides of the aisle."
The White House has also issued a statement concerning Snowe's decision. "For almost four decades, Olympia Snowe has served the people of the great state of Maine. From her unwavering support for our troops, to her efforts to reform Wall Street, to fighting for Maine's small businesses, Sen. Snowe's career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people."
With Snowe's departure comes the battle for her Senate seat. Right now Democrats hold a 53-46 majority in the Senate but are battling to hold onto 23 seats in November. Guy Cecil, director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee stated, "Maine is now a top pick-up opportunity for Senate Democrats."
On the other side of the line is John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Maine has a proud history of electing independent leaders, including a Republican governor in 2010, and while this will be a key battleground in the fall, I am confident it will remain in Republican hands."
Several names are already being floated as replacements, including Republicans Peter Cianchette and Steve Abbott and Democrats Representative Chellie Pingree and Mike Michoud.
Snowe has served government since 1978 and will retire at the age of 65.