Snowe reflects on broken Washington and life in Maine

Former Maine senator Olympia Snowe.

Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe says she’s enjoying life out of office, touring the country promoting her book “Fighting for Common Ground” and meeting with people encouraged by her decision to try and attack partisan gridlock from outside the Senate. In an interview, the moderate Republican reflected on why she included a vivid retelling of her experience growing up in Auburn and Lewiston and losing her parents, as well as shared some of her favorite memories from travelling around Maine during her time in public office.

Are people connecting with what you’re saying about the need to fix Congress?

People are totally in sync and in harmony with the sentiments I have been expressing and most especially the basis upon which I regrettably had to depart the Senate in the final analysis. I’m most interested in what can be done to change it. I tell students at the colleges and universities I’ve visited – don’t take your cues from Washington, please don’t. This is not the way you should handle problems, in your personal life or your professional life. Certainly not in the public sphere. In no other sphere of life where people think they are going to get 100 percent of what they want. That’s not even possible so why is there this demand in the public sphere that it becomes all or nothing? You have to make compromises and concessions in order to achieve the ultimate goal.

Why is there a disconnect between politicians and why they are serving in office?

People ask me that question – how is it [politicians] could be so far removed from the real world and from average Americans? It’s about changing the incentives, which is what I discuss in my speeches. You have to reward bipartisanship and consensus building and penalize those who are unwilling to engage in building bipartisan support and working across the political aisle and instead just rather become totally intransigent if they can’t have their views accepted in totality. But people cannot believe that the disconnect could be so pronounced.

Why was it important to you to share this sensitive and tragic part of your growing up in such detail?

I thought it was important to talk about these experiences from the standpoint of what shaped me personally that influenced the way I handled my public responsibilities – who I am and the independence, willingness to stand alone and willing to fight and being a survivor. So that what might bother others in a political arena, standing alone and being one of a few [on certain issues] was not probably as difficult for me as it might be for somebody else, given my perspective, my upbringing, my experiences. I know from colleagues’ experience – some people just could not have endured the kind of pressure that I experienced at times.

And what I’ve told students is never be afraid to stand alone. It’s difficult – I’m not saying it’s easy. But the fact is when you feel so strongly about something then don’t hesitate to do it.

What places in Maine were favorites of yours to visit when you were visiting with constituents? 

I think I did stop at probably every major coffee shop in the state of Maine, that certainly included Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s, the occasional Starbucks. I was grateful when I first started my career when McDonald’s sprouted up in the small communities, if there wasn’t a coffee shop because I always like to go to the local coffee shop. Or you know, Simone’s hot dog stand, that’s one of the true drop by favorites. And I could go in every town and know where they used to have a telephone booth – now they don’t exist.

But there were so many great places if I look back that I spent time at – the old Pilot’s Grill in Bangor and I think about in Norway – Barjo’s and the woman who ran it, I think was Josephine Stone. She was running that restaurant single-handedly – she was the chief cook, she was waiting on the tables and she was in her late 80s if not 90s. I would go into the kitchen to see her. She was one of those strong Maine women. There are just so many places like that – in Skowhegan it was Whittemore’s at the time and so many people were so good to me along the way, you can just never forget.


Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a breaking news editor for CNN's digital politics team in Washington. Previously, she was a senior news editor with U.S. News and World Report, where she began her three-year tenure as a political writer. She spent much of 2012 on the road covering the presidential campaign in battleground states across the country. Metzler proudly tells all who will listen she hails from the great state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.