Olympia Snowe

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Olympia Snowe

Olympia Jean Bouchles Snowe (born February 21, 1947 in Augusta, Maine, USA) is a Republican politician and the senior United States senator from Maine.

A moderate Republican in a Senate with 44 Democrats, 55 Republicans, and one independent, Snowe often affects close votes and filibusters. This has given her enormous political influence on contentious issues; Congressional Quarterly noted “her presence at the negotiating table in the 107th Congress . . . become nearly a necessity." She has been consistently popular in Maine [1], and was noted as one of America's top ten Senators by Time magazine [2].

Snowe married John McKernan, then-Governor of Maine, in February 1989. Snowe and McKernan had served together in the United States House of Representatives from 1983 to 1986.

Early life

Snowe was born Olympia Jean Bouchles, the daughter of George and Georgia Goranites Bouchles. Her father emigrated to the United States from Sparta, Greece. She is a member of the Greek Orthodox church.

Snowe's early life was riddled with tragedy; her mother died of breast cancer when she was eight, and her father died of heart disease barely a year later. Orphaned, she was moved to Auburn, Maine, to be raised by her aunt and uncle, a barber and a textile mill worker respectively, along with their five other children. Her brother John was raised separately, by other family members. Within a few years, illness would also claim her uncle's life.

Following her mother's death, Snowe was sent to St. Basil's Academy in Garrison, New York, where she remained from the third grade to the ninth. Returning to Auburn, she attended Edward Little High School, before entering the University of Maine in Orono, Maine in 1969, where she earned a degree in political science. Snowe later received an honorary degree from Bates College. Shortly after graduation, Bouchles married her fiancé, Republican state legislator Peter Snowe.

Career in politics

Snowe in the Maine State Legislature, 1977

Snowe entered politics and rose quickly, winning a seat on the Board of Voter Registration and working for Congressman (later U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of Defense) William Cohen. Tragedy struck Snowe again in 1973, when her husband was killed in an automobile accident. At the urging of family, friends, neighbors and local leaders, Snowe ran for his Auburn-based seat in the Maine House of Representatives at the age of 26 and won. She was re-elected to the House in 1974, and, in 1976, won election to the Maine Senate, representing Androscoggin County. That same year, she was a delegate to both the state and national Republican conventions.

Snowe was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, and represented Maine's 2nd Congressional District from 1979-1995. The district includes Bangor and her hometown of Auburn. She served as a member of the Budget and International Relations Committees.

In 1994, when Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell declined to run for reelection, Snowe immediately declared her candidacy for the seat. The Democratic nominee was her House colleague, 1st District Congressman Tom Andrews. Snowe defeated Andrews 60%-36%, carrying every county in the state. Snowe was part of the Republican sweeping elections of 1994, where the Republican party would capture the House and Senate for the first time since 1954. Snowe was easily reelected in 2000 over State Senate President Mark Lawrence, increasing her winning margin to 69%-31%.

Snowe was an important voice during the Senate's 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton. She and fellow Maine Senator Susan Collins sponsored a motion that would have allowed the Senate to vote separately on the charges and the remedy. When the motion failed, Snowe and Collins voted to acquit, arguing that Clinton's perjury did not warrant his removal from office.

Her moderate views have drawn attacks from conservative Republicans; the Club for Growth and Concerned Women for America label her a "Republican in Name Only" ("RINO").

U.S. President George W. Bush has given Snowe the nickname "The Big O". [3]

In February 2006, TheWhiteHouseProject.org[4] named Olympia Snowe one of its "8 in '08", a group of eight female politicians who could possibly run and/or be elected president in 2008.

In April 2006, Snowe was selected by Time as one of "America's 10 Best Senators." She was the only woman so recognized. Time praised Snowe for her sensitivity to her constituents, also noting that: "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."

A woman of firsts

Snowe is the fourth woman to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the first to chair its seapower subcommittee, which oversees the Navy and Marine Corps. In 2001, Snowe became the first Republican woman to secure a full-term seat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Snowe was the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the United States House of Representatives; she is also the only woman to have served in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of the U.S. Congress. Finally, she is the first Greek-American congresswoman. With her 1989 marriage to Maine Governor John McKernan, she became the first person to simultaneously be a member of Congress and First Lady of a state. She has never lost an election, and easily won a third Senate term in 2006; she was reported - 7 months ahead of the election - to have raised a record-setting $2.1 million. [5] An unsuccessful grassroots campaign even emerged to convince Snowe to seek the Republican nomination for the Presidency in the 2008 Presidential election.

Political views

Snowe is a self-described political moderate, whose independence in the Senate often marks her for complaints from more conservative groups, especially over her support for legalized abortion and gay rights. On other social issues like drug policy, travel to Cuba, and censorship issues like government regulation of the media and prohibiting flag-burning, Snowe is quite conservative. In fiscal matters and on defense, though, Snowe is generally conservative. She has been long-regarded as a hawk on foreign affairs, supporting both President Clinton's involvement in Kosovo and President George W. Bush's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. On fiscal matters, she worked with Democrats to reduce the scale of the Bush tax cuts but supported the broad principle of cutting taxes as economic stimulus. She joined fellow Republicans, Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Sen. John McCain in voting against the tax cut bill of 2003. She voted against NAFTA, CAFTA, and most free trade measures. She is a strong supporter of environmental protections. Both Snowe and fellow Maine Senator Susan Collins were reluctant converts to limited gun control following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Although she is pro-choice, she has expressed opposition to partial-birth abortion; however, she voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act because she felt it did not include the necessary exemptions.

Snowe lists her top legislative priorities as campaign finance reform, contraceptive coverage, assisting the growth of small business, prescription drug coverage, and student loan and child care funding.

In the 109th Congress, Snowe worked to ensure passage of a genetic non-discrimination act, which she had previously worked to pass for nearly eight years; opposed cutting loans through the Small Business Administration; offered legislation aimed at reducing the price of prescription drugs and insurance costs for small businesses; and became a leading voice among Congressional Republicans expressing concerns over President Bush's plans for the privatization of Social Security.

Snowe is a member of The Republican Main Street Partnership and supports stem cell research. She is also a member of Republicans For Environmental Protection, the Republican Majority for Choice, Republicans For Choice and The Wish List (Women In the Senate and House), a group of Pro-Choice Republican Women.

"The Gang of 14"

Snowe meets with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito.

On May 23, 2005, Snowe was one of fourteen moderate senators, known as the Gang of 14, to forge a compromise on the Democrats' use of the filibuster on judicial nominees. This action both curtailed the Republican leadership's attempt to implement the so-called "nuclear option", and broke Democrat opposition to three nominees brought to the Senate floor. The compromise precludes further filibusters and the implementation of the nuclear option for as long as the Gang of 14 holds together.

Under the agreement, the Democrats retain the power to filibuster a Bush judicial nominee only in an "extraordinary circumstance", and the three most conservative Bush appellate court nominees, (Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William H. Pryor, Jr.|William Pryor), receive an up-or-down simple majority vote by the full Senate.

This deal has been strongly criticized by both Democratic and Republican partisans but, for the time being, the forging of this compromise has radically changed the center of gravity in the Senate towards moderates like Snowe. The Gang played an important role in the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, as they asserted that neither met the 'extaordinary circumstances' provision outlined in their agreement. Snowe ultimately voted for both Roberts and Alito.

Committee assignments

In the 109th Congress, Sen. Snowe is Chair of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee and serves on the Committee on Finance; Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Select Committee On Intelligence.

2006 re-election campaign

In the November 2006 election, Senator Snowe faced Democratic candidate Jean Hay Bright, and Independent candidate Bill Slavick. She won convincingly with 74% of the vote.