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The words "moderate" and "Republican" aren't two that go together often in our current political climate, but U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has been just that for decades, both in her home state of Maine and on Capitol Hill. As of January 2013, however, she won't be. Well, she'll probably still be a moderate Republican, but she's announced that she won't seek re-election to her Senate seat this November. And that news stunned both her constituents and political watchers.
Few saw this decision coming, especially since Snowe has spent years fundraising for this race, knowing that those further along the GOP spectrum might be out to defeat her. So what happened? In her statement, the 65-year-old Snowe said:
"What motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion, and I am filled with that same sense of responsibility today as I was on my first day in the Maine House of Representatives. I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and governing institutions."
How can anyone be surprised that the super-charged infighting that's become political standard operating procedure wouldn't wear down the mightiest of warriors, let alone women who've toyed with the idea of running for office, but who just don't have the stomach for the game.
There are 17 women in the Senate. With Snowe's announcement, as well as Kay Bailey Hutchison's earlier decision that she also will not seek re-election, we're possibly down to only 15 U.S. Senators who are women, depending on the outcome of the other November elections. But the larger question to discuss in light of Snowe's comments is whether we've gotten to a point where the mean-spirited dirty tactics have become too much for even the most skilled and experienced lawmakers? If so, that just makes things easier for the political bullies to have their way.
For Democrats hoping to pick up another Senate seat, Snowe's announcement is good news, but it's not for the country as a whole. Sure, I'd personally like to see more Democratic women in office, but what we need are more politicians like Snowe who aren't afraid to see both sides of an issue and who have the backbone to break with hard-line party politics for the benefit of American voters.
What can we do to convince you to change your mind, Senator Snowe? (May I call you Olympia?) The women of America need you ... even those of us who don't share your party affiliation.
You can read more from iVillage iVote Editor and Correspondent Joanne Bamberger at her blog, PunditMom. Joanne is also the author of the Amazon bestseller Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America.