Olympia Snowe: a life in public service
Senator Olympia J. Snowe, the senior Republican Senator for the State of Maine, is known nationally for her work on budget deficit reduction, defense, health care, education technology, women’s issues, and student financial aid. Snowe has served the citizens of Maine since 1973, when she was first elected to the Maine House of Representatives, succeeding her first husband, the late Peter Snowe. In 1976, she was elected to the Maine Senate, gaining particular recognition for her work on health care issues.
In 1978, Snowe was elected to serve in the United States House of Representatives – the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the House – an office to which she was subsequently re-elected seven times, before her 1994 election to the United States Senate. In 2000, Senator Snowe – a Republican in an increasingly blue state – won re-election to the Senate, attaining nearly 70% of the votes cast, against the President of the Maine Senate. She recently announced that she will seek a third term of service in 2006.
Senator Snowe has never lost an election, and regularly attains over 60% of the vote; she is “the standard against which all post-war political figures must be judged in terms of electoral success” (Christian Potholm, An Insider’s Guide to Maine Politics: 1946-1996). She was described by Congressional Quarterly as a “New England brand of political pragmatism and fiscal moderation”. She has a record of tireless public service and strong advocay of issues which spans three decades; throughout that career, she has developed a reputation as an important leader with deep concerns for a variety of issues that are particularly germaine to America in this time: strong national defense, healthcare, the environment, fiscal prudence in government, and support for small business.
Senator Snowe is married to former Maine Governor John R. McKernan Jr.; she is a member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston, Maine.
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Olympia Jean Bouchles was born on February 21, 1947, in Augusta, Maine, the daughter of the George and Georgia Goranites Bouchles, who had emigrated to America from Sparta, Greece. When both her parents died before she was ten, she was raised by her aunt and uncle, Mary and James Goranites of Auburn, Maine, a textile mill worker and barber respectively; her brother was raised separately, by other family members. Tragedy would later strike again, when her first husband, Peter Snowe, was killed in an automobile accident in 1973.
“It’s probably done a lot to shape my work and my view toward life”, she notes. “I’ve lost a lot of close members of my family over time, and I’ve learned that it can happen to anybody. People may not suffer the same misfortune, but it can be misfortune of another kind, and it can have an impact. It gives me the ability to identify with people. It’s made me empathetic, sympathetic, because unfortunately I’ve had enough tragedies to appreciate how things can change in one’s life. It gives you a better understanding of what people have gone through.”
Olympia graduated from St. Basil’s Academy in Garrison, New York in 1962 and completed her secondary education at Edward Little High School in Auburn. She graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Maine at Orono in 1969.
She served in both Houses of the Maine Legislature, first elected to the Maine House – representing her home town of Auburn – in 1973, to the seat vacated by the death of her first husband, Peter Snowe, in an automobile accident. She was subsequently re-elected in 1974, and was elected to the Maine Senate, representing Androscoggin County, in 1976. In the Senate, she chaired the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Institutional Services, where she gained particular recognition for her work on health care issues and for sponsorship of legislation in the health field.
In 1978, Olympia ran for election to the United States House of Representatives, becoming the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the House. During eight terms in the House of Representatives, she co-chaired the Congressional Caucus on Women’s issues for ten years, and provided leadership in establishing the Office of Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health. She also served as a member of the House Budget Committee; of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she was Ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on International Operations; and of the former House Select Committee on Aging, where she was Ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Human Services.
In 1994, following the retirement of Sen. George Mitchell, Rep. Snowe announced her candidacy to succeed Mitchell. She was elected, winning over 60% of the vote; seeking a second term six years later, Sen. Snowe would extend that lead, winning re-election in 2000 with almost 70% of the vote.
In the Senate, Olympia Snowe has carved out a reputation as a leading moderate, focusing her attention on efforts to build bipartisan consensus on key issues. In her first term, she was appointed to leadership as a Deputy Whip and in 1997 was elevated to the position of Counsel to the Assistant Majority Leader. In 1999, she was cited by Congressional Quarterly for her centrist leadership, and was co-chair, with Sen. John Breaux, of the Senate Centrist Coalition, a vehicle for bipartisan communication and cooperation between Senate Democrats and Republicans.
In 2002, the well-respected Congressional Quarterly magazine lauded her “New England brand of political pragmatism and fiscal moderation”, and noted her vital role in the Senate, saying “In a Senate where virtually every major proposal must muster the 60 votes requisite to overcoming a filibuster “her presence at the negotiating table in the 107th Congress has become nearly a necessity”. In 2005, Sen. Snowe was one of the first Congressional Republicans to urge caution and deliberation over plans to reform Social Security, a position she was later joined in by Speaker Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Frist, and an ever-growing list of Representatives.
Senator Snowe had been the fourth woman ever to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she was the first woman Senator to chair the Subcommittee on Seapower, which oversees the Navy and Marine Corps. Snowe is a leading voice in the Senate on issues related to women in the military and shipbuilding matters.
A member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Snowe is the Chair of its Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries, which oversees America’s fisheries and the Coast Guard. A former member of the Senate Budget Committee, she was a key voice in establishing education as a priority within the context of the first balanced budget since 1969, and in 1999, 2000, and 2001 authored the amendment that for the first time created a reserve fund for a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Sen. Snowe currently sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and is also Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee, having sat on that Committee since joining the Senate; this position is of great import when one considers that, “representing more than 99% of all employers and creating 75% of net new jobs, small enterprises are a dynamic and vital part of the American economy“.
In 2001, Sen. Snowe became the first Republican woman ever to secure a full-term seat on the Senate Finance Committee, and only the third woman in history to join the panel. The Finance Committee is considered one of the most powerful in Congress; its members claim jurisdiction over legislation relating to tax, trade, health care, welfare, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Sen. Bob Dole described serving on the Committee as “One of the highest honors that can come to a member of the U.S. Senate…The Committee on Finance has since its creation been associated with some of the most significant and most controversial issues in U.S. history“. Snowe is a member on the Subcommittee on Health Care, which oversees matters related to health insurance, Medicare and the uninsured.
In the 109th Congress, Snowe worked to ensure passage of a genetic non-descrimination act, which she had previously worked to pass for nearly eight years, opposed cutting loans through the Small Business Administration, offered legislation aimed at bringing down 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 Social Security reform.
Senator Snowe has worked extensively on a number of issues, such as: budget and fiscal responsibility; education, including student financial aid and education technology; national security; women’s issues; health care, including prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients; oceans and fisheries issues; and campaign finance reform. Snowe has listed her top legislative priorities as campaign finance reform, contraceptive coverage, assisting the growth of small business, prescription drug coverage, and funding for student loans and child care funding.
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|The text on this page has been compiled and adapted from the following sources:
The Women’s Studies Department of the University of Maryland
The Senator’s official biography
The biography posted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee
“Senator named a Rising Star“, Bangor Daily News, 1/14/2002
“Two faces of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins“, Boston Phoenix, first issue, 1999
“Nine & Counting: the women of the US Senate“; Snowe, Boxer et al.
“An Insider’s Guide to Maine Politics: 1946-1996“; Christian Potholm