Sen. Olympia Snowe (R)
Elected: 1994, term expires 2012, 3rd term.
Born: Feb. 21, 1947, Augusta .
Education: U. of ME, B.A. 1969.
Religion: Greek Orthodox.
Family: Married (John McKernan).
Elected office: ME House of Reps., 1973–76; ME Senate, 1976–78; U.S. House of Reps., 1978–94.
Professional Career: Dir., Superior Concrete Co., 1969-78; Auburn Bd. of Voter Registration, 1971–73.
Olympia Snowe, Maine’s senior senator, is a Republican who was first elected to the House in 1978 and to the Senate in 1994. After losing her mother to breast cancer when she was 8 years old and her father to heart disease at age 9, Snowe grew up with her aunt and uncle in Auburn. She worked her way through the University of Maine and took a job as a legislative staffer after college. Tragedy visited here again in 1973, when she lost her young husband, Peter Snowe, then a member of the Maine Legislature, in an auto accident. She was subsequently elected to his seat. In 1978, when Rep. William Cohen ran for the Senate, she made a bid for his U.S. House seat in the northern 2nd District and won. She maintained a moderate voting record, winning re-election by large margins throughout the 1980s but tighter ones in the 1990s. In 1989, she married Republican Gov. John McKernan. When Sen. George Mitchell announced his retirement in 1994, Snowe decided instantly to run for his seat. She went on the offense against her obvious Democratic opponent, 1st District Rep. Tom Andrews, attacking him for voting for the bill that closed Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine and for opposing the balanced budget amendment. She won 60%-36%.
|Olympia Snowe (R)||402,598||(74%)||($2,773,431)|
|Jean Hay Bright (D)||111,984||(21%)||($126,823)|
|William Slavick (I)||29,220||(5%)||($5,580)|
|Olympia Snowe (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 (69%), 1994 (60%), 1992 House (49%), 1990 House (51%), 1988 House (66%), 1986 House (77%), 1984 House (76%), 1982 House (67%), 1980 House (79%), 1978 House (51%)
In the Senate, Snowe has been one of the least conservative Republicans; she cast pivotal votes when the Senate was closely divided in 2001-02 and 2007-08. Her voting record puts her near the middle of the Senate. She has voted with Democrats on cultural issues and on some economic issues. She supports abortion rights. In 2001, she led a group that successfully pushed for legislation making the child care tax credit refundable. In the 2004 budget negotiations Snowe insisted on applying the “pay-as-you-go” rule to tax cuts as well as to spending increases, but the House would not go along and there was no budget resolution that year. In 2005, Snowe, along with fellow Maine Sen. Susan Collins joined the “Gang of 14” senators that diffused a showdown over President Bush’s judicial nominees and preserved the Democrats’ ability to filibuster, but only under “extraordinary circumstances.”
Snowe supports legislation to allow the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, which many Republicans oppose. She won a 63-28 vote in 2007 on a related issue that would allow drug reimportation from Canada and other industrialized countries. She has taken a lead role on many women’s health issues, pushing for more money for women’s health research, more screening for osteoporosis, and gender analysis in Food and Drug Administration clinical trials. With liberal Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and conservative Republican Michael Enzi of Wyoming, she co-sponsored a bill to bar insurance companies from using genetic information to set premiums, which became law in 2008.
On the Finance Committee, Snowe exercised great influence over the Bush administration’s economic agenda. During the 2005 debate over creating private savings accounts in Social Security, Snowe opposed using payroll taxes for private accounts. In May 2006, she was one of three Republicans to vote against passage of the eventual $70 billion tax-cut bill. In July 2006, Senate Republican leaders dropped plans to include repeal of the estate tax in a final draft of a pension bill after Snowe signaled that she would oppose it. She joined Democrats in voting against the Australia Free Trade Agreement, which she opposed because it would increase dairy imports. She also opposed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, arguing that the Colombian government failed to prosecute killers of union leaders. Snowe also had a role in an early controversy over executive pay that ensnared the young Obama administration in early 2009. Snowe astutely predicted that high-dollar bonuses and “golden parachutes” to executives of financial companies being bailed out by American taxpayers would be unpopular with the public. She and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon won passage of a provision in that year’s economic stimulus bill to prevent such bonus payments. But the stipulation was left out of the final bill at the insistence of the Obama administration, which said it was worried employees would sue to keep their bonuses, according to an account by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. In late March 2009, there was an outpouring of public anger over bonuses paid to employees of troubled insurance giant AIG, which would have been prevented by the Snowe-Wyden legislation.
Snowe maintained her independence from the Bush administration on the Iraq war. In 2007, she co-sponsored a resolution criticizing the president’s troop surge strategy. In April 2007, she voted against a Democratic proposal setting a timetable for withdrawal, but changed her mind in July 2007 and voted for it. She co-sponsored a bill setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government and mandating redeployment of American troops if the benchmarks were not met. “We need to have results, and the Iraqi political leadership needs to understand that,” she said. Snowe also co-sponsored with Illinois Democrat Barack Obama a resolution to include soldiers with noncombat injuries in casualty reports.
In January 2003, Snowe became chairman of the Small Business Committee and promised to work for more affordable health insurance, regulatory relief, and access to foreign markets for small businesses. In 2007, after Democrats won control of the Senate, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry became chairman and Snowe the ranking Republican on the committee. Together they sought a one-year delay for small businesses to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley law’s strict reporting requirements, and sought to change Small Business Administration procurement rules in economically distressed areas. Snowe sponsored a bill endorsed by both business leaders and labor unions to allow small businesses in different states to join together to buy health insurance.
Snowe’s leadership role on the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee gives her opportunities to shine for constituents. She helped pass the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens fishery law in 2006. In October 2008, she declared that regulations had reduced fishing days by more than half and lamented that the government might “regulate our nation’s first fishery out of existence.” On other Commerce committee issues, Snowe and Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington sponsored a measure to regulate foreign exchanges that trade in U.S. commodities; it passed as part of the 2008 farm bill. Snowe’s provision to monitor electronic energy markets also got into the bill.
From her seat on the Finance Committee, Snowe has tinkered with legislation to include tax deferrals for military shipbuilding yards (Bath Iron Works would benefit), income averaging for fishermen, favorable accounting provisions for reforestation, and favorable treatment for energy plants that burn wood chips. She and Collins worked together in 2007 to get empowerment-zone designation for Aroostook County, to secure $617,500 to preserve landscape painter Winslow Homer’s oceanfront studio in Scarborough, and to earmark $6 million for the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation in Kennebunk. In 2006, Snowe guided a bill through the Senate designating $1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an important federal program in the cold Northeast.
Snowe has enjoyed high job ratings in Maine. She was re-elected 69%-31% in 2000. Six years later, she easily turned back charges of being a “Bush enabler” to win re-election, 74%-21%, over Democrat Jean Hay Bright, an organic farmer, author, and environmental activist. She supported John McCain for president early on, in January 2007.