Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
As a moderate Republican in a Senate divided with 45 Democrats and 55 Republicans as of 2004, Snowe often has proven a key swing vote on close votes and in ceasing or perpetuating Senate filibusters. This has elevated her status as an important leader in the body; the well-respected magazine Congressional Quarterly has reported that “her presence at the negotiating table in the 107th Congress has become nearly a necessity”. Her moderate views, however, also made her the target of attacks from more conservative Republicans, such as the Club for Growth and Concerned Women for America, both of which labeled her a Republican in Name Only ("RINO").
Snowe was born Olympia Jean Bouchles, the daughter of George and Georgia Goranites Bouchles. Her father emigrated to the United States from Sparta, Greece.
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.
Shortly after graduation, Bouchles married her fiancee, Republican state legislator Peter Snowe. Olympia also 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. However, personal 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 agreed to seek election to her late husband's House seat.
Career in politics
Following her husband's death, Snowe ran for his Auburn, Maine-based seat in the Maine House of Representatives at the age of 26 and won. She subsequently was re-elected to the House in 1974, and, in 1976, won election to the Maine Senate, representing Androscoggin County, Maine. That same year, she was a delegate to both the state and national Republican conventions.
Snowe was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1978, and served in that body from 1979-1994, representing Maine's 2nd Congressional District. In the House, she served as a member of the House Budget and Foreign Affairs Committees.
In 1994, when Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell announced he would not 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; she was reelected in 2000 over State Senate President Mark Lawrence, winning by an even larger electoral margin, 69%-31%.
In the U.S. Senate, Snowe was an important voice during the Senate's impeachment trial of the former President Bill Clinton, where 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, both Snowe and Collins subsequently voted to acquit, believing that while Clinton had broken the law by committing perjury, the charges did not amount to grounds for removal from office.
A woman of firsts
In the U.S. Senate, Snowe is the fourth woman ever to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is the first female Senator to chair the committee's Subcommittee on Seapower, which oversees the Navy and Marine Corps. In 2001, Snowe became the first Republican woman ever 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 also the only woman to have served in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of the U.S. Congress. Following her 1989 marriage to Jock McKernan, who was at the time Governor of Maine, she became the first woman to simultaneously be a member of Congress and First Lady of a state. She has never lost an election, and she recently accounced that she will seek a third Senate term in 2006; assuming her victory in this, Snowe is likely to remain an important voice in the Senate through at least 2013. Adding further to her national stature, a grassroots campaign has emerged to convince Snowe to seek the Republican nomination for the Presidency in the 2008 Presidential election.
As another sign of her influence and prominence, Snowe is one of a handful of high-profile politicians and public figures to have gained a nickname by U.S. President George W. Bush, who refers to Snowe as "The Big O" .
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. 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, though she worked with Democrats to reduce the scale of the Bush tax cuts, she supported the broad principle of cutting taxes as economic stimulus. Both Snowe and fellow Maine Senator Collins were reluctant converts to limited gun control, following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
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-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 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.
In the 109th Congress, Sen. Snowe is Chair of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, and serves on: Finance, Commerce, Science & Transportation; and Intelligence (Select).
Nine & Counting: The Women of the Senate, Boxer, Collins, Snowe et al, ISBN 0060957069.
- Official website
- Video clips from the Senate Republican Conference
- Audio clips from the Senate Republican Conference
- Answers to Project Vote Smart's On the Issues questions
- Draft: Olympia Snowe 2008
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