Understanding Olympia Snowe

Columnists dig through the Maine senator's biography for clues to her character, independence and media savvy

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Until the last minute, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe kept people guessing whether she would vote up or down on the health care bill in the Senate Finance Committee.  On Tuesday, she cast the only Republican vote in favor of the plan. After months of courting and complaints about her out-sized influence on health care reform, liberals' initial enthusiasm was tempered by concerns that she might weaken legislation.

But the debate hasn't stopped over Olympia Snowe. Many commentators are analyzing her motives for throwing in her support and her remarkable ability to hold the media's attention. Others have taken a more biographical turn, tracing her political decision-making to her personal history.

  • A Political Powerhouse  At The Washington Post, Dana Milbank says Senator Snowe is "fast becoming the Brett Favre of the political world: She has trouble making up her mind, but she sure knows how to play ball." Milbank says she's a talented political player who had the media, as well as many of her colleagues, eating out of her hand. "Snowe had been the focus of such media attention for months, as she strolled through the Capitol wearing a Mona Lisa smile and carrying on a public debate with herself that would have made her at home in Elsinore Castle."
  • Independent From the Start  At Bloomberg, Catherine Dodge reminds her readers that Senator Snowe was orphaned as a young child, left to fend for herself and become truly independent. "Orphaned at age 9, she took the train by herself as a young girl from boarding school in upstate New York to Maine to see her aunt and uncle on weekends and holidays. When the rail connections didn’t match up, she sometimes spent the night alone in New York’s Grand Central Station." Dodge said her "ability to go it alone has helped make her Maine’s most successful politician," and a unique voice on health care. "That independence has made the Maine Republican a pivotal figure in the debate over remaking the U.S. health-care system, which would affect every American and one-sixth of the nation’s economy."
  • The Immigrant's Daughter  At The New York Times, Mark Leibovich says Snowe's father, who was a Greek immigrant, helped shape her intense work ethic.
Even by the workaholic standards of many legislators, Ms. Snowe is known as especially tenacious. She attributes that in part to her Greek immigrant father, George John Bouchles, whom she recalls sending her back to school when she came home at lunchtime. She kept trying to explain to him that kindergarten lasted only a few hours. 'Fine,' he told her, 'if you don’t want to amount to anything, don’t go back to school.' Five-year-old Olympia Bouchles finally had to ask her teacher to write a note to her father explaining the half-day concept.
  • Olympia Snowe, Witch  At Red State, Erick Erickson doesn't much care where the senator came from, but he's quite sure he wants her vanquished. "Olympia Snowe has sold out the country. Having been banished to our world after Aslan chased her out of Narnia, Snowe is intent on corrupting this place too." Erickson urges his readers to send her rock salt to try and melt her. "I’m going to ship this 5 pound bag of rock salt to her office in Maine. It’s only $3.00. You should join me. It is a visible demonstration of our contempt for her. First she votes for the stimulus. Now this. It’s time to melt Snowe. ORDER YOUR BAG HERE."
  • The Real GOP Maverick  "Forget Sarah Palin," Laurie Kellman writes at ABC News. "The female maverick of the Republican Party is Sen. Olympia Snowe." Kellman says, "breaking with her party is a role Snowe has played many times, from her vote for Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus bill to her defiance of then-President George W. Bush on a bill to provide health are to millions of uninsured children."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.