Snowe’s book offers intimate portrait of failing Congress

Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, writes about political gridlock in her new book “Fighting for Common Ground.”

Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s new book “Fighting for Common Ground” is just about what you’d expect to hear from the longtime Republican lawmaker who left the Senate in 2012 citing divisive partisanship.

“Legislative outcomes are often preordained, and positions have usually solidified along party lines before a bill even reaches the Senate floor,” she writes. “In recent years, the two parties have stood in monolithic opposition; senators collaborate less; they hold separate conferences and caucuses and they meet less often in social settings.”

The 281-page effort begins with her decision to leave the Senate, a section with a clear tick-tock of how she executed the move and includes reactions from the likes of her family members, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and even Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

“After I concluded telling Mitch that I would be departing the Senate, the first words out of his mouth were, ‘Goodness gracious,’” Snowe writes, reinforcing the notion that she truly did take the the world by surprise with her announcement.

She also offers an intimate look at her tragedy-strewn childhood, something she rarely discussed despite spending most of her life in the public eye. Both of Snowe’s parents died of illness while she was still young and growing up in Auburn. She was just six years old when her mother first fell ill with what would later be diagnosed as breast cancer.

“When my mother was home I’d talk with her about her illness as she lay in bed,” Snowe writes. “I was fraught with worry, trying to understand what was happening. I knew enough to ask her about dying and if she was going to die. I  can only imagine what it must have been like to be asked these questions by your young daughter.”

But the bulk of the book focuses on the transformation of functionality of Congress throughout her more than 30-year congressional career, as seen through her personal legislative efforts. The detail Snowe brings to her readers is a mirror of the detail-oriented way she crafted legislation – meticulous and thorough.

Snowe is critical of both Democrats and Republicans, but does not shy away from laying blame at the feet of her own party.

“It’s now the case that close to a majority of Republicans, even a majority in some states, have moved farther to the right, and the increasing polarization in both the parties has resulted in the unworkable stalemate we witnessed in Congress in 2011 and 2012,” she writes.

Once thought of as a prime Tea Party target herself, Snowe delves into an almost political scientist’s account of how the conservative movement formed in the heat of the health care overhall debate and the impact it’s had on Congress.

“The movement took on a life of its own and Americans who felt a deep sense of alienation at not being listened to led the opposition to what they perceived as overreach of President [Barack] Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress,” Snowe writes.

She also talked about the awkwardness felt by fellow moderate GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, during the weekly GOP policy luncheon when she had to tell her colleagues she was launching a write-in campaign for herself after she lost the Republican nomination to a Tea Party candidate.

“It struck me, how could we even be in this position as a party?” Snowe writes.

The book concludes with a list of proposals to help reform Congress and return it to a functioning law-making body, Snowe’s self-professed goal now that she’s left office.

For political junkies in Maine or across the United States, the book is full of catnip – passages of the ‘Gang of Six’ health care talks, conversations with the president and the history of Snowe’s relationship with the Clintons.

It’s obviously written with an agenda and a bias, as are all autobiographical pieces. But as with her reputation as a lawmaker, it brings together a humbleness and a depth and nuance often lost in politics, all through the prism of Snowe’s common sense voice.

The book will be available to the public on May 14.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer with U.S. News and World Report, who hails from the state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. She spent much of 2012 covering the presidential campaign and particularly enjoyed her time on the road in states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Ohio and Ohio. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and is a Bowdoin College grad.