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Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe Says Goodbye
12/13/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

Olympia Snowe used her final address on the floor of the U.S. Senate to again call on colleagues to turn away from the dysfunction and polarization that's come to define politics and governing in the nation's capitol. Maine's senior U.S. Senator - a Republican and one of a dwindling number of moderates in Washington - is stepping down after 34 years in Congress.

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Olympia Snowe used her final address on the floor of the U.S. Senate to again call on colleagues to turn away from the dysfunction and polarization that's come to define politics and governing in the nation's capitol. Maine's senior U.S. Senator - a Republican and one of a dwindling number of moderates in Washington - is stepping down after 34 years in Congress. Jay Field reports.

At just after 1 p.m., 65-year-old Olympia Jean Snowe walked to the front of the chamber, and for the final time asked - and received - premission to address her colleagues. She began by marveling at how she'd ever managed to get to Congress and Washington D.C. in the first place.

"But such is the miracle of America, that a young girl of a Greek immigrant and first generation American, who was orphaned at the age of nine, could, in time, be elected to serve in the greatest deliberative body the world had ever known."

"Culitvate the good habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you," Snowe continued, reciting lines by New England poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, "and to give thanks continuously."

Snowe thanked the people of Maine. She thanked her husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan, and her extended family, staff and fellow U.S. senators. And she thanked a Maine mentor and role model, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, Margaret Chase Smith.

"With truly uncommon courage, and principled independence, she telegraphed the truth about McCarthyism during the Red Scare of the 1950s, with her renowned, Declaration of Conscience speech on the Senate floor."

Snowe credited Smith for inspiring her own bipartisan, independent approach to governing. She then pivoted to the message she's been delivering since she announced last spring that she wouldn't seek a fourth term in office. The Senate, Snowe says, is broken - held hostage by excessive political polarization, unable to solve the problems that threaten the nation's financial stability.

"But as I prepare to conclude my service in elective office, let me be abundantly clear: I'm not leaving the Senate because I've ceased believing in its potential or I no longer love the institution, but precisely because I do."

Snowe encouraged her fellow lawmakers to follow the example set by the thousands of men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. And she cited examples from her own legislative career in the House and Senate that give her hope that a spirit of compromise could emerge again someday.

She noted how Senator Ted Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, insisted that her name be first on the landmark law they co-authored to stop insurance companies from denying health coverage based on genetic tests. And she recalled her work with the Gang of 14, seven Democrats and seven Republicans who came together during a dispute over President George W. Bush's judicial nominees to protect the 60-vote threshold required to end fillibusters, "An agreement that embodied the very manifestation fo the power of consensus building."

But sadly, Snowe noted, the Senate has strayed far from this kind of cooperation. The founding fathers, she said, warned against too much allegiance to political parties. Snowe went on to cite a recent study by three political scientists, who've concluded that the Senate is more polarized now than at any time since the end of reconstruction.

Senators, she says, take an oath to defend the Constitution, and have a responsibility to defend the chamber's mission as a deliberative body. "And that requries the ability to listen before judging, to judge before advocating and to advocate without polarizing."

In the coming years, Snowe says she will work from outside the Senate to restore these values to the institution she loves.



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