The XX Factor

Olympia Snowe Is Fed Up, But She’s Not Down for the Count

Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) talks with reporters before the committee is set to vote on health care reform legislation on Capitol Hill October 13, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican senator from Maine who has been in Congress for 33 years, announced yesterday that she will not seek re-election. She cited the increasingly divisive state of American politics as a reason for her resignation. “I do find it frustrating … that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions,” Snowe said. This may have been surprising to some, but in retrospect the 2010 battle over health care reform may have been the last straw for the senator. As first, Snowe broke with Republican ranks, voting for the Finance Committee’s health-care-reform bill in October 2009. But then she voted against the longer version of the bill put before the Senate in December 2009. In a piece about just how demented the Senate is, the New Yorker’s George Packer quoted a Snowe confidante who said:

“[Olympia] actually said to me once that she had never felt the pressure that she felt on health care, never before had that pressure been quite as evident to her or quite as real or troubling. Kyl and McConnell were saying things like ‘You just can’t let us down, we’re all in this together. You’re a senior Republican member of this caucus, and you just have to hang tough with us. We expect it and you’re going to do it.’”

Those who respect Snowe’s independent thinking, take heart—though she is not running for re-election, it does not seem like she wants to retire from politics. New York’s Jonathan Chait suspects Snowe may join Americans Elect, which he describes as “the third-party group that believes that both parties should put aside partisanship and come together to enact an ever-so-slightly more conservative version of Barack Obama’s agenda.” Chait wonders if Snowe would join Americans Elect’s presidential ticket with David Boren, the former senator from Oklahoma. The staunch democrats who are happy to see a popular Republican step down are now looking at another woman to try to fill Snowe’s seat: the Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who has been described as a Northern ally of Elizabeth Warren.