After years of preaching the virtues of bipartisanship, moderate Republican Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe delivered her Senate farewell address making one last plea to colleagues for legislative productivity. The legendary Mainer also focused on the integrity and virtues of the institution and highlighted her achievements in more than 30 years in Congress when they served as examples of bipartisanship.
"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 said on Thursday.
"I intend to work from the outside to help build support for those in this institution who will be working to re-establish the Senate's roots as a place of refuge from the passions of politics, as a forum where the political fires are tempered, not stoked as our Founding Fathers intended. Because the Senate in particular is our essential legislative mechanism for distilling the vast diversity of ideologies and opinions in America so that we might arrive at solutions to the challenges we face."
Snowe, part of a dwindling group of centrist senators, declined to run for her fourth Senate term in a surprising, last-minute decision, despite being virtually assured of re-election. Often sought out by lawmakers on the Democratic side of the aisle for her willingness to build consensus, Snowe has been derided by more conservative members of her party for her efforts. She offered no regrets in her final remarks.
"When people ask me why I may be challenging a particular party position or why I simply don't 'go with the flow,' I tell them, 'Please don't take it personally, I can't help it. I'm from Maine!'" she said. "But that's what Maine people truly expect from their elected officials: to do what you believe is right, for the right reasons, and in the right way."
And with the current Congress embroiled in a knockdown, drag-out fight on how to avert the looming economic calamity known as the fiscal cliff, Snowe urged her colleagues to find the path to a common solution for the sake of the nation.
"Our problems are not insurmountable if we refuse to be intractable. It is not about what's in the best interests of a single political party, but what's in the best interests of our country," she said.
I'm not claiming there was some kind of golden age of bipartisanship where everyone all sang from the same legislative hymn book. And I'm not advocating bipartisanship as some kind of an end unto itself—that's not the point. What I am saying is that we have seen how cooperation in the past has resulted in great achievements, which likely never would have occurred if bipartisanship hasn't intervened as a means to attaining those most worthy ends.
With her office staff, husband former Maine Gov. Jock McKernan, and colleagues such as GOP Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lisa Murkowski, and John Thune, and Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu and Barbara Mikulski looking on, Snowe reminded her fellow senators about their oath to uphold and support the Constitution and what that means to her.
"[It] includes a capacity to differ with one's own party and even to reach agreement in compromise with another's party when one's own party is unable to prevail," she said. "It is only when we minimize the political barriers that we can maximize the Senate."
Snowe also cautioned against radical reforms to the Senate filibuster rules, which allows the minority party some level of power against the majority. In recent years, many political observers feel the already slow pace of the Senate has been even more lethargic because of ever-increasing use of the procedural maneuver.
"As this body contemplates changes to its rules in the next Congress, I would urge all of my colleagues who will return next year to follow the Gang of 14 template and exercise a similar level of caution and balance," she said, referring to a group formed in the mid-1990s to enable judicial nominations to move forward in the face of gridlock.