FDU presents Olympia Snowe as part of New Jersey Speakers Series

Olympia Snowe stage

Above: Former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe addresses a variety of political topics at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on January 8, 2014 as part of Fairleigh Dickinson University's New Jersey Speakers Series. (Photos by Michael Paras)

By Andew McKay

The 2014-15 inaugural season of the New Jersey Speakers Series, presented by Fairleigh Dickinson University, continued on Thursday night with former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, who shared her thoughts on the midterm elections, the bipartisan gridlock in Congress and the importance of finding common ground.

“There was never a golden era of bipartisanship,” said Snowe. “Even our founding fathers were opinionated. But they realized the gravity and indispensability of consensus. Unfortunately, bipartisanship is rare today.”

Snowe said that policy making has virtually been annihilated. “It’s more about ‘gotcha’ votes,” she said, adding, “Ultimately it yields two outcomes: either scorched-earth victory for one side or political stagnation.”

Olympia Snowe with Drucker
Above: Krista Jenkins, political science professor and director of FDU's PublicMind poll; Olympia Snowe, former U.S. Senator from Maine; and University President Sheldon Drucker at the event.

Snowe served as U.S. Senator from Maine from 1995 to 2013. Over the course of her political career, she earned a strong reputation for reaching across the aisle and helping to turn divisions into consensus. She also became well known for her ability to influence the outcome of close votes. In 2006, she was named one of America’s 10 best senators by Time magazine.

Prior to serving in the Senate, she represented Maine’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years.

The youngest Republican woman elected to the U.S. Congress, she is the first woman to have served in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress.

Today she is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and co-chairs its Commission on Political Reform. She has also published the book, Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate In Congress.

FDU's media partner, WBCS Newsradio 880, interviewed Olympia Snowe prior to her talk at the NJPAC. Listen to the interview here.

“Americans fear that permanent dysfunction will become part of the system in Washington,” said Snowe. The tragedy, she said, “is the perception by the American people that there’s no benefit of participating in our democracy.”

Renewing her calls for consensus-building and governance from “a sensible center,” Snowe recommend reinvigorating the committee process and retuning the Senate to its original intent as a deliberative body, among other advice. “The art of the legislative process has been lost,” she said. “If you allow the process to work, Congress will rise [to the occasion].

Snowe demanded more transparency and accountability from Congress, highlighting looming flashpoint issues including the nation’s budget. “No Budget No Pay should become law,” she said. “If Congress cannot pass a budget they don’t deserve to get paid.”

Ultimately, said Snowe, the power still rests in the hands of the American people. “We cannot accept low-level functioning from our leadership when it comes to doing what’s right for America,” she said.

Closing her discussion, she stated, “We get the government we demand,” adding, “The tactics of polarization must be relegated to the dustbin of history.”

Snowe fielded audience questions about a variety of subjects including term limits for congress, third party politics and her decision to not seek reelection. Steve Scott, news anchor for WCBS Newsradio 880 AM, one of the University’s media partners for the series, introduced the lecture and moderated the question and answer session.

The New Jersey Speakers Series continues with former presidential advisor and current CNN political commentator David Gergen on February 19, followed by Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough on March 19, and former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather on April 23.

Previous speakers in the 2014-15 inaugural season included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, award-winning actor Alan Alda, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

The New Jersey Speakers Series, presented by Fairleigh Dickinson University, is sponsored by Hollister Construction Services, PNC Bank, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, WCBS Newsradio, The Star-Ledger and Prestige Automotive Group. The series is sold by subscription only. For tickets or information, visit www.NJSpeakersSeries.org, or call 1-888-MY-NJPAC or 1-888-696-5722.