America / Gov. Officials / Politics

Olympia Snowe’s decision may be more important than last night’s GOP primary results

On Tuesday, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) announced that she will not seek re-election this November, citing dissatisfaction with the current partisan nature of the Senate. While Wednesday’s headlines will be dominated by the battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for the GOP nomination, I believe that Snowe’s decision deserves more attention than it probably will receive.

Snowe’s decision is significant because she was expected to retain her office. Snowe even said, “I have no doubt I would have won reelection.” The Democrats also currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but will be forced to defend 23 of 33 seats available in the November elections (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats). The GOP had originally been focusing on swinging four elections back to their side to establish a majority; with one “safe” Republican seat now contested, the GOP will have to recalculate its allocation of resources at a national level. According to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s Executive Directory, Guy Cecil, the Democrats now see a great opportunity in Maine because the Democrats have a significant registration advantage in the state; President Obama won the state by 17 points in 2008, and in this year’s presidential election Obama is poised to do well against this year’s GOP challenger as well. However, registration for potential candidates is only a couple of weeks away, which could complicate matters for both the Democrats and the Republicans.

The potential impact that Snowe’s decision could have on the Senate elections in November is yet to be seen, but at the moment, her decision tells me something more significant: this country’s well-documented dissatisfaction with political gridlock is spreading. If a respected Senator known for being willing to reach across the aisle says, “unfortunately, I do not expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term” politicians on both sides of the aisle should take notice. The loss of a Senator known for her bipartisanship (even if she was occasionally out of step with her own party) in favor of improving our nation will only further hinder the Senate’s supposed mission of passing legislation.

This is bad news for our government as a whole because a respected elected official has become disenchanted with an office she was almost assuredly going to retain. Public dissatisfaction with the US Congress has now crept into its membership, but will it be enough to push either house of Congress to more actively pursue compromises to pass key pieces of legislation? If this story receives the media coverage it merits, then maybe it will. Sadly, I believe that last night’s GOP primary results will win today’s headlines.

– Max Rava

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