The 2014 Summit of the Women + Girls Research Alliance – Keynote Speaker – Olympia Snowe

The 2014 Summit of the Women + Girls Research Alliance – Keynote Speaker – Olympia Snowe


Jennifer: Today I have the privilege of introducing
our keynote speaker, Senator Olympia Snowe. We’re really looking forward to spending time
with you this afternoon. Senator Snowe has a long history of service to our country and
support, very strong support of women’s issues. She spent three terms in the U.S. Senate from
’95 to 2013 after having served sixteen years in the House of Representatives. Prior to
her congressional service she served in the Maine State Legislature. During her time in
Congress, she was noted for her ability to compromise and bring both sides together,
imagine that, that deserves a round of applause, absolutely. She has a strong sense of bipartisanship
and in fact, in 2006, she was named one of America’s Best Senators. The current congressional
impasse led her to decide against reelection and focus on trying to repair a dysfunctional
congress. She talks about this extensively in her book entitled “Fighting for Common
Ground,” how we can fix the stalemate in Congress. Senator Snowe also has a very compelling personal
story too of perseverance and overcoming obstacles. She was raised by her aunt and uncle after
the death of both of her parents and her first husband, Peter Snowe, was killed in an auto
accident when she was only twenty six years old. She first ran for office to complete
his term in the Maine House of Representatives. When first elected to Congress, at the age
of thirty one, Senator Snowe was the youngest Republican woman in the first Greek-American
woman ever elected to congress. She was also the first woman to serve in both houses of
the State Legislature and both Houses of Congress. In addition to serving on many congressional
committees, including the first woman to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, of
important note to us today, she Co-Chaired the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues
for more than ten years making her an outstanding choice to speak to us today. Senator Snowe
is a role model for many, including me, particular for those we hope she continues to serve as
a role model to those that have come behind her in Congress. It’s my pleasure and honor
to introduce Senator Olympia Snowe. (Applause) Olympia Snowe: Thank you, well thank you very,
very much Jennifer for the gracious introduction. I truly appreciate it and I appreciate being
here today and this warm response and in exchange, I will follow the advice given to me by a
very wise person said “Olympia a great speech is one with a good beginning and a good ending
which are kept very close together. So I’m going to try to do that. (Laughter) Olympia Snowe: But I do want to say a good
beginning would be for me to express my sincere appreciation to Jennifer for those very generous
words of introduction and most especially for bringing her considerable talents and
depth of experience not only as Chief Human Resource Officer at Duke Energy but also here
to this formative summit. So, we thank you and I also want to add my voice of thanks
to Duke Energy for supporting this summit from the very beginning and to all of the
sponsors who made it possible. It truly is a privilege for me to be here today which
I understand is the third of the annual summits. You should be immensely proud of what you’ve
been able to accomplish, that this Women and Girl Research Alliance is on a campus at UNCC
Charlotte that is enormously respected and highly esteemed and that it is tied so meaningfully
to the community and to the region that is benefitting the students and obviously benefitting
the entire state of North Carolina and in that regard, I would like to also recognize
Chancellor Dubois and his dynamic wife, Lisa. First of all to Lisa, thanking her for being
at the forefront, you know, of this summit and the auspicious inception of the alliance
as well. As I understand, she chaired the first summit and she also chaired the very
first steering committee so I want to congratulate you for being at the forefront of those efforts,
Lisa. (Applause) Olympia Snowe: And Chancellor Dubois, besides
adding diversity to this audience, let me also express my gratitude on the remarkable
record of the innovative and visionary leadership that you have established here at UNC Charlotte
and the entire university of North Carolina System, which is phenomenal. I think that
is certainly illustrative in all of the capital improvements that you are describing that
are occurring here on this campus but also illustrative and I think demonstrative of
your level of performance and standards that has resulted in a twenty percent, twenty eight
percent increase in enrollment and I think that speaks volumes about the success of your
stewardship of this university so we thank you as well. (Applause) Olympia Snowe: And I couldn’t help but think
when the Chancellor was talking their marriage, Lisa and Phil’s, I was thinking about my husband.
When my husband and I got married, he was the Governor of Maine and I was in the U.S.
House of Representatives and I received this card from a friend and on the front of the
card it said, “the three most important words in a marriage are,” and you open it up and
it said, “that’s right, dear.” My husband did a very good job in following that advice.
Of course they asked him if I was going to be — I was always asked if I was going to
be changing my name and he would be asked the same question and he said “no I’m keeping
my name.” I also want to convey my gratitude as well to your Chair Elect, Gina Esquivel,
and to your dual co-directors, Lisa and Susan Jetton, Lisa Yarrow and Susan Jetton. This
is a trio and certainly a voice to be reckoned with and so we want to thank them as well
for their contributions to the summit and to the overall alliance. (Applause) Olympia Snowe: And so it is a pleasure to
be here today and the companies that saw forward looking, reasonable minded people, not that
Washington isn’t brimming with such individuals these days but I do want to underscore the
importance and you can’t over state it, the role that the Women and Girls Research Alliance
plays in improving the lives of women and girls through research, through education,
through civic engagement. You’re the lynchpin of progress by focusing your efforts on vital
issues such as homelessness and implication for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region as well
as the much discussed wage gap between men and women and defining poverty and its impact
on the greater community as well. You are on the vanguard of progress without question,
because of the positive changes that you bring in, bring about day in and day out with credible,
non-partisan, research and analysis that helps to develop public policy and also it helps
to solve problems. You know, facts matter unbelievably as it may sound today given the
environment in Washington and our political system, but facts matter. They are crucial,
they’re foundational, and they’re fundamental. They’re fundamental to the critical resources
and limited resources that we have to shape public policy and to provide services. It
matters to those that receive those critical services. It matters to those that want economic
equality and opportunity. It matters for shaping policy and ultimately creating the result
by making a difference in driving it forward and achieving a solution to the problem. The
reality is, that we have seen, that all too often that facts fall prey to the ideological
and partisan warfare in today’s political system. You know, the late Senator Daniel
Pat Moynihan of New York, once said, “People are entitled to their opinions, but they’re
not entitled to the facts.” He couldn’t have been more right. The reality is that you’re
focusing on issues that aren’t democratic issues or republican issues they’re not conservative
issues, they’re not liberal issues, they’re moral issues, they’re human issues, they’re
civil rights issues, and they should be addressed as such. When I was serving in the U.S. — (Applause) Olympia Snowe: When I was serving in the U.S.
House of Representatives, I and female colleagues to which Jennifer was referring to, yes those
were Congressional Caucus and Women’s issues and I will discuss that in a moment. It was
first known as the Congress Women’s Caucus on Women’s Issues and we changed it to the
Congressional Caucus so we could invite the men so they could pay dues. We needed some
allies because there were so few of us, but, you know, we worked on issues and we relied
on organizations such as yours for the empirical data that was necessary to craft the legislation
to move forward and it was important to have credible information and data to shape our
initiatives because that was the way that you could coalesce the support and you could
make sure that your bills ultimately became law and, you know, that ‘s the way it worked
and I know it was a surprise to some in today’s environment in Washington where you don’t
have that kind of legislative process because you’re not using the facts, you’re talking
about messaging and political talking points, but it is a template to which law makers should
return to or familiarize themselves with because ultimately, it makes a difference. The fact
that your summit theme is underscoring conversions is totally appropriate and that’s exactly
and precisely what you’re doing through the alliance and through the summit. You’ve integrated
across all sectors of society and the economy, from the academic to the non-profit, the governmental
and to the corporate because it requires teamwork, it requires collaboration. In every sphere
of life people have collaborated because it’s necessary in order to be successful and to
be effective and ultimately to achieve the solutions that are so important. The only
sphere in which it is obviously not occurring is in the political arena and specifically
in the United States Congress, which is precisely what I want to discuss here today in conjunction
with what I think is important to move forward for this country and explaining why and what
happened that undermined our political system to the degree that it has incapacitated from
reaching solutions or to bringing people together to develop the legislation necessary to enhance
the quality of life for all Americans and what we can do in spite of the fact that Congress
has gone off track to make our government work again because frankly there should be
no mistakes. The consequences which are profound if we do not redress and remedy the problems
that exist in Washington and with the political gridlock that has grappled our nation’s governing
institutions, because it will dictate our very future. We cannot to be indifferent,
we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, and we certainly cannot afford to be like
the old man that is in the story that I like to tell about a group of tourists who come
across the bridge from New Hampshire into Maine and after they cross the bridge, they
face two directional signs at the intersection. One said Portland, left, the other one said
Portland, right. Obviously confused, they decided to pull over on the side of the road
and one of the tourists rolled down the window and decided to ask a man who was standing
on the side of the road and happened to be an old Mainer and she put the question to
him. She said, “Sir,” pointing to the signs, “does it matter which way we go to Portland?”
and he paused for a moment and he said, “not to me it don’t,” well, so much like a Mainer.
Well, you know, it doesn’t matter which way we go to Portland, but it does very much matter
what road we take in this country and the very course that we establish will dictate
the destiny of our country. My own perspective has been etched from my four decades in the
legislative branch of government that obviously was my life’s work. It wasn’t an easy decision
to decide not to seek reelection for a fourth term to the United States Senate because obviously
I loved being in the Senate, I loved being in the Legislative Branch of government, but
unfortunately I came to the cold stack of reality and the conclusion that the polarization
and the partisanship would not be diminished in the short term, so I departed the Senate
not because I no longer love the institution, not because I didn’t believe in it’s potential
but precisely because I do. I just decided to take my fight outside the institution and
fight in a different direction for bipartisanship because it would not change from within and
everywhere that I have traveled across this country and I’ve literally crisscrossed our
nation, I’ve talked to students on so many college campuses and to organizations of all
political persuasions and I’m trying to assure Americans that in spite of what the political
classes and the polarizing forces would have you believe, that yes we can bridge the political
divide and we can defeat the machinery of the partisanship and that’s why I decided
to write a book and believe me, that was not on my agenda when I decided not to seek reelection.
Somebody once said, “it’s fun to have written a book, it’s not fun to write a book,” but
in my book, I described how congress and the Senate specifically used to work because it
did and what we need to do to return our system to one that has been envisioned by our founding
fathers. I’m so passionate about changing the tentative government, because I’ve seen
it to be different, I know it can be different, and it hasn’t always been this way and I can
tell you that I’ve experienced the process when it worked almost throughout my legislative
journey and my legislative journey began early as Jennifer mentioned. I started in political
office at the age of twenty six and the circumstances were difficult because my first husband had
been killed in a car accident returning home from a state legislative session and obviously
you know it was a very difficult time for me, but at the same time people were coming
to me and were approaching me about running for pubic office. They knew about my passion
for politics that obviously wasn’t an ideal time in which to make that decision, but ultimately
I decided that you know I was at a cross roads. I could either decided to retreat from the
world or try to make a positive out of a negative so I decided that I would run for the state
legislature in the special election and make my future decisions based on my experience.
After all, I majored in political science in college. I loved politics. I had always
determined that I would do something to contribute to the world around me because I wanted to
help others and the empathy that I had developed as a result of my own personal hardship so
I was sworn in to the state legislature by the governor because it was a special election
at that point and in my first hours in the state legislature, I went upstairs to the
chamber and I was standing outside the house of representatives and looking around, seeing
people that I either heard or read about and pondering my future and my decision when all
of a sudden I was approached by a state senate majority leader and he said, “Olympia, I know
what you’re thinking,” and I said “you do?” he said, “yes, I do,” he said “you’re looking
around the chamber wondering how you got here,” he said, “but I can assure you in a few months,
you will be looking around this chamber wondering how everybody else got here.” (Laughter) Olympia Snowe: Well, I have to admit, that
did occur to me a few times more recently, but you know, the state legislature was a
magnificent experience because it really formed my foundation for my whole approach to legislating
in addition to my own personal experiences. I discovered that politics and public services
were constructive endeavors, then in fact after the election, my colleagues and I, we
put our party labels behind us and the campaigns and set about to focus on the issues that
mattered to the people we were fortunate to represent and that’s the way it worked in
the state legislature, you know, but unfortunately so much had changed and you know I came to
recognize that obviously in the final months of my service in the United States Senate,
but something else also occurred, you know at the time in which, you know, I made a decision
to serve in the state legislature and it was a personal one, you know I had to come to
terms with my own circumstance of being a young widow, I didn’t have, we didn’t have
children, but I started to think about the women and their circumstances if they were
to find themselves in similar ones, those who had children, wondering what they did,
if they didn’t have the means to support themselves and as well as their families and that realization
really began to take shape, when I was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978
and I decided to go to bat for women, if we didn’t, who would? And after all, there were
only sixteen women at that time in the U.S. House of Representatives out of four hundred
and thirty five, there was only one woman serving the United States Senate and so we
were so drastically underrepresented that we could ill afford to be two partisan. So,
I joined the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues as a mentioned earlier, which I did
eventually co-chair for eleven years with Congresswoman Pat Schroeder who was a democrat,
but interestingly enough. This caucus was formed by two congresswomen in the congress
before I was elected. One was a pro-choice democrat, Congresswoman Liz Holtzman from
New York and a pro-life republican Margaret Heckler who was a congresswoman from the state
of Massachusetts and we spoke as women first, not as republicans and not as democrats and
we decided that we would work on issues that were important to women and families, because
at that time the laws were working against women, they were discriminating against women,
not to mention the fact that they were not representing and reflecting the dual roles
that women were facing at that time and time of transition between work and family and
so we set about to change all of that because there was a time when pension benefits were
canceled without the spouses notification and in this case it was most often times a
woman would find out after the death of her husband. Child support enforcement was a woman’s
problem. It wasn’t a matter of law. It wasn’t a matter of concern, you know, for our society
childcare was extremely controversial. Family and medical leave was not the law of the land.
In fact, it took us seven long years and then we discovered that women were excluded from
clinical study trials along with minorities. Study trials were underwritten by the National
Institutes of Health underwritten again by the federal taxpayer. I mean there were two
major, you know, studies one was actually done in breast cancer. They omitted women.
The other was conducting on the effects of aspirin on cardiovascular diseases and they
included twenty two thousand white male physicians and not one woman and so they obviously can’t
apply those treatments to women or to minorities if they’re not included in the clinical study
trial. So, we asked the question why wouldn’t you include women in clinical study trials?
Well they said they were concerned that their research would be endangered or affected by
the women’s reproductive system. We said well that’s not going to change anytime soon. (Laughter) Olympia Snowe: So could not have the scientific
and medical community accommodated rather than over looking it or ignoring it as an
inconvenience. It sort of reminded me of a line from My Fair Lady, why can’t a woman
be more like a man because they obviously wanted uniformity they didn’t want any differences
in order to conduct their clinical study trials. Well we changed all of that. We created an
Office of Women’s Health which was my initiative but we worked as a team in the House of Representatives
along with Senator Barbara Mikulski from Maryland who was also a trailblazer and we got it done
and we passed a far reaching initiative that in fact is celebrating it’s twentieth anniversary
this year, but it also created the largest clinical study trial – (Applause) Olympia Snowe: It also created the largest
clinical study trial including one hundred and sixty thousand women. It went for fifteen
years at a cost of more than six hundred million dollars and to this day it’s creating life
saving discoveries for women and there are many manifestations of these clinical study
trials and many off shoots for further studies as a result and we wanted to reverse the fact
that women were the missing page in America’s medical textbook and so therefore women’s
voices did make a difference. The same was true with economic equality. The fact is and
it would come as a surprise to you when I tell you that, you know, economic equality
should pertain to men and not to women again because those laws were not reflecting you
know women’s roles in the work place as well, but we again, introduced the Economic Equity
Act that included a compilation of issues and we had two titles, Women and Families
focusing all of the issues and then we set about to introduce them separately because
we figured that the scattershot approach would work and there were very few of us in the
House of Representatives so we had to do everything we could to build alliances and coalitions
and as a result we achieved a historic milestone in 1993 where thirty provisions became law.
We focused on employment opportunities and economic opportunities and we talked about
depending care tax credits. They’re important to working families, between taking care of
their children and their elderly parents and the list went on. It went on for defense.
It went on for health. It went on for childhood immunization because we understood that all
of these issues mattered fundamentally and the same was true frankly when I was in the
United States Senate. It was all about team work and collaboration and I served on the
Senate finance committee that has jurisdiction over two thirds of the federal budget including
social security and Medicare and Medicaid, health policy, economic policy, trade and
the list goes on and when we were considering the largest tax cut in history, I teamed up
with then Senator Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas who’s a democrat on the committee, a democratic
woman, and she and I introduced and increasing to child tax credit and making it refundable
for the first time because I decided- (Applause) Olympia Snowe: I decided that it was important
to make sure that we included working families in the equation of this tax cut and you thought
while it might have been easy, well it wasn’t, needless to say, but ultimately we prevailed,
and it took you know, as a republican I would have been the deciding vote and I will get
to that in a moment but the fact is I was the deciding vote in the House-Senate Conference
when it’s going to merge as to whether or not that provision was going to be there or
not and I said, “well it better be in there, because I’m not voting the bill without it,”
and they said, “you mean it?” and I said, “absolutely, I mean it,” and I leveraged my
vote to make that policy because I thought it was so instrumental to the thirty seven
million families and the fifty five million children who would benefit from it and as
— (Applause) Olympia Snowe: And also working with Senator
Ted Kennedy on the genetic non-discrimination bill that ultimately became law, but that
took us the better part of ten years and it was about those who take genetic tests, you
know, often times found themselves without insurance or losing their jobs because of
engaging in genetic testing and that came to my attention by one of my constituents
who was a member of a family that had nine members who had had were breast cancer survivors
including herself and she wanted her daughter to take genetic tests, but her daughter was
fearful of losing her insurance or her job and so as a result I introduced this legislation
with Senator Kennedy and Louise Slaughter who introduced it in the House of Representatives,
but just to illustrate how, you know, how things are dramatically different today from
this time. Senator Kennedy was the chair of the Health Education Labor Committee and so
he had jurisdiction over this legislation so it’s tradition, traditional for the chairman
to report out the bill with his or her name first and in this cases he deferred to me
and he put my name first even though I was not even a member of the committee and that’s
the way it used to work across party lines, deference to one another, irrespective of
your political allegiances or philosophies and ultimately it was adopted and became law
and it was described as the first civil rights piece of legislation in the twenty first century
so it was one in which I was very, very proud of and to work with him. What do all of these
initiatives have in common? None of them would have occurred had we been ensconced in our
legislative foxholes. We had to work together and we had to collaborate and work across
political lines and yet as we progress, you know, on issues of enormous importance to
women. Why do I feel like every time I read the news or hear about it that we’ve stepped
back into a time warp, you know, sort of back to the future, revisiting issues in the twenty
first century? You know, I always like to tell the story about three people who died
and went to heaven one was a doctor, one was a lawyer, and one was a woman politician and
they were met at the gates of heaven by Saint Peter and the doctor stepped forward and said,
“Saint Peter, you know I’ve healed the sick and I’ve taken care of the young and old and
I deserve to get in.” Saint Peter said, “well yes you do, but you have to do one little
thing, you have to spell God.” And he said “G-O-D,” and in through the gates to heaven
he went. The lawyer stepped forward and the lawyer said “Saint Peter, I have provided
justice for my fellow man and I deserve to get in,” and Saint Peter said, “well you do
but there’s just one small thing that you have to do for me, spell God,” and he said,
“G-O-D,” and in through the gates of heaven he went and then the women politician stepped
forward and she said, “you know I’ve been running for office, I’ve represented my community,
my state, I’ve had to overcome roadblocks and obstacles, it’s been difficult,” and Saint
Peter said, “I know it has been a difficult time for you, you just have to do one small
thing before you can get into the gates of heaven,” and she said, “what is it?” he said,
“spell Czechoslovakia.” (Laughter) Olympia Snowe: Well, we know it’s easy today
with the Czech Republic right? But somehow you get the feeling that you have to spell
Czechoslovakia over and over again and sort of repeating that fight you know over and
over again but you know in 2009, soon after President Obama became president, the very
first bill he signed into law and I was there for, I was one of the few republican supporters
and sponsors of the legislation that was the Lilly Ledbetter Act. (Applause) Olympia Snowe: In fact, Lilly was at the White
House this week for talking about these very same issues that all of you are concerned
about and certainly I am, but she fought mightily and courageously for a number of years to
fight the statute of limitations on equal pay wage pay lawsuits and the fact is it should
not be a statute of limitations when it comes to discrimination and here we are fifty one
years later after the Equal Pay Act and we still have seventy seven cents on every dollar
that a man makes for African American women it’s sixty four cents, for Latino women it’s
fifty four cents. So, the point is there is that disparity and what does that mean? It
means that it is contributing ingredient to the more defining elements for more American
women and that is of course a level of poverty. So, yes we have to change all of that and
even on your studies in the Mecklenburg County and reviewing the disparities and wages. That
represents about twenty four percent with a cumulative average earnings of more than
one point nine million so that affects women, it affects families, it effects that communities
and it affects the region if not the state and the entirety of our country when you consider
the magnitude of these issues. So, there’s no question and to paraphrase Robert Frost,
we have many miles to go before we can sleep for a more equitable just America without
question, but we’re only going to be able to do it when we do it together and taking
those strides in collaboration. You know, when I served in the United States Senate,
the women senators used to get together and still do, I don’t but the current women senators
still do on a monthly basis for dinners and I’m sure your own senator Kay Hagan has mentioned
those dinners to all of you and by the way, she was a pleasure to work with because she
worked across the political isle it wasn’t about republican issues or democrat issues,
it was about solutions to the problems and that kind of spirit carried over in our monthly
dinners. It became this tradition and we brought no agenda we’d talk about our personal lives
or our political lives or professional what was happening and just you know sharing our
thoughts and getting to know one another which is obviously a rarity in today’s environment
in Washington and sort of like Las Vegas, whatever was said there, stayed there and
there has never ever been a breach in disclosure. In fact, my last dinner was actually a reception
that was held for both me and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison who was also withdrawing
from the senate so they were holding this in our honor but on the very last that very
night, Kay and I were attending a republican dinner being held by republican senators in
our honor. The democrats had a similar dinner the night before. You know, it was customary
at one time that these would be bipartisan dinners so you could say goodbye to your colleagues
and they would be in the United States capital. So it’s not even bipartisan today to even
say goodbye to your colleagues and fomenting that as we did that night among us as women
as we were talking about it because we weren’t able to have you know our own dinners thinking
about the fact that isn’t that strange that we could not have had you know our dinners
together, but you know those voices make a difference, they make a difference and having
twenty women in the United States Senate yes it makes a difference. It makes a difference. (Applause) Olympia Snowe: Because it also you know creates
fertile ground you know for a more collegial, collaborative environment not to say that
we agree on every thing and we’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum but we respect
one another’s different view. We understand and we have active, willing listeners who
are engaged and may well be a legislative partner on any issue that we have determined
to be important. I think the reality is that these kind of bipartisan legislative partnerships
are crucial to breaking down the political barriers and to maximizing the potential of
governing institutions and our political system. I always recognize the fact certainly when
I was in political office and particularly when I was in the state legislature and I
was learning my basic fundamentals that if I had to be a legislative lone ranger, so
be it and when I served as I said earlier on the senate finance committee, there were
times in which I was the lone vote, the predicting vote, the swing vote and my vote made a difference
and I know I used to give my republican colleagues and leadership a little bit of heartburn from
time to time when I was deciding that things should go in a different direction so much
so that the ranking republican of the finance committee Chuck Grassley who was also the
chairman of the majority. One day when I was in the senate cloak room, which is a room
off the senate chamber where you can make phone calls and have discussions and so forth,
I was sitting in the phone booth about to make a call and Senator Grassley comes up
to me and he puts out his hand and he opens it up and in the palm of his hand was sitting
some pills and he said, “do you see these, Olympia?” I said, “yes,” and he said, “you’re
the reason I take these.” (laughter) Olympia Snowe: I said, “I’m sorry Senator
Grassley that I’m making your life so difficult. Well, not long there after, Senator Grassley
became the ranking member of the Judiciary committee and Senator Orrin had succeeded
him so one day it occurred me to ask Grassley what happened to those pills, so I did. I
said, “Senator Grassley, what did you do with those pills?” He said, “I gave them to senator
Hatch.” (laughter) Olympia Snowe: In any event you know it’s
important that you have bipartisan collaboration and that you work across the isle because
if you think about it of all of the market conditions that occurred in the twentieth
century whether social security, Medicare, the civil rights act, you know the voting
rights act, welfare reform, the fact of the matter is none of which would have occurred,
none of which would have occurred or been woven into the fabric of our country had they
been inactive across partisan lines but they enjoyed broad bipartisan work which made all
of the difference, but today we are weaving a different kind of tapestry, a different
kind of tapestry that is impeding our ability to solve the problems of this great nation
and so bipartisan partnerships as we’ve witnessed in Washington are as rare as solar eclipses
if not Haley’s Comets and that’s what we have to change because we have to overcome this
political crisis in this gridlock so that we can create economic equality and opportunity
for all Americans. It was underscored as well with your reports the recently published Shriver
report they discuss the level of poverty of women and the Shriver Report of which I’m
on the advisory board has indicated that women, two thirds of women are primary breadwinners
of their families and they represent half of the work force and yet one in three women
live at or near the brink of poverty that is unacceptable. As Maria Shriver said you
know women feel powerless and invisible but also hopeless because they see their elected
officials not focusing on policies that makes it work for them and to help them work and
to make their lives more manageable and you see it today in the economic growth numbers,
you see it in the job creation number. It isn’t as good as it gets. It should be better
but the aggregation of the leadership in Washington lead us to this point because the congress’s
action and inertia aren’t on issues that are important such as regulatory reform, tax reform,
looking at our deck, passing budgets, and doing the basic fundamental and responsible
things when it comes to you know the physical issues facing this country. As Janet Yellen
who is now focusing on Main Street I said finally some one of focusing on Main Street
because that’s what it needs to be all about we talk about that there are people behind
the staggering numbers that she mentioned in those statistics and she’s absolutely right
because there is a big detachment between Main Street and Washington and that’s why
we have to restore the integrity in the process in Washington, D.C. that makes it work for
the greater good of this country. People ask me everyday you know why is it so polarized?
Why is it so difficult to achieve bipartisan solutions? Well you know the red states are
getting redder and the blue states are getting bluer unfortunately but some statistics illustrate
how big the divide is that is disconcerting. In 1957 there were fifty-seven senators who
represented states and they weren’t a party but their states voted for the presidential
candidate of the other party. Today there are only twenty-one senators who are in that
category and the U.S. House of Representatives Jen Howard wrote in the New York Times recently
that back in 1986 there were forty-five of the U.S. House of Representatives who had
congressional districts where the member of congress was of one party but their districts
voted for the presidential candidate of the other party. Today that’s only about six percent,
only about twenty-five seats and depending on which study you look at in terms of competitive
seats in the House of Representatives according to Nate Silver it could be as few as thirty
five, here both studies are saying twenty-one out of four hundred and thirty five that could
be competitive national journal highly respected publication on capital hill has been conducting
a voting trend analysis of members of congress in both the House and Senate since 1982 and
that year they determined there were fifty-eight senators who came between the most conservative
democrat and the most liberal republican. Today for the third year, actually the fourth
year in a row and the fifth time ever based on their recent release of a few weeks ago
there are zero senators that come into that category, zero. So there is no democratic
senator that is more conservative than a republican and there’s no republican who is more liberal
than a democrat. In the House of Representatives in 1982 there were three hundred and forty-four
who were you know across the isle on a regular basis. Today there are only four out of four
hundred and thirty five but that’s just a illustrative of the divide that has occurred
and how polarizing it is and according to the National Journal as they stated you know
that the ideological sorting by party has virtually been complete that has been taking
place over the last three decades virtually has been complete. So, it’s no wonder then
that according to three political scientists that they determined this is the highest level
of polarization since the end of reconstruction in 1879 so thinking about one hundred and
thirty five years we’re at the most polarizing point you know in our history. I mean I know
some people say well it was worse in the 1800s we had duals and brawls and canings. Well
is that the standard by which we want to measure the United States Senate? For some, yes, that’s
probably true, but you know one of the political scientists said you know the polarization
is so off the charts that they can’t even measure any further increases. So no wonder
then, you know it’s the least productive congress. Last congress was the least productive but
this one is about to surpass it. The last congress was described as a do nothing congress
I mean compared to the 1947 congress, which was a do nothing congress and yet they passed
nine hundred and six bills and the last congress passed two hundred and eighty three so you
think about the difference and so president Truman thought he had I mean you know the
point is you know it’s not working it’s not that you have to have an abundance of legislation.
That’s not the point. If they were doing the things they needed to do then you could say
you know you don’t need and they’re not even doing the small things let alone the large
things and so that’s why it all has to change so it’s no wonder then it’s an all time public
disapproval. When I left the United States Senate our approval rating was about ten percent
and one of my former colleagues said, “well who exactly is that ten percent that thinks
that congress is doing a good job?” you know, even root canals were more popular and still
are I mean it’s a tragedy you know that they’re surrounded by all of this history but not
inspired by it not working together and doing what’s important. I often threatened to go
to the floor and conduct a refresher course in how a bill becomes law because we’ve jettisoned
the legislative process in Washington. I mean you know that’s the unfortunate part, you
don’t have an amendment process, you don’t have the regular order that you hear about
today, which means the normal course of legislative business you know introducing a bill, have
it go to committee, sort it through, build support, have debates, send it to the floor
of the Senate, have your amendments, bringing both sides together. Those amendments are
the bridge but it’s not happening. That’s why you know we’re on the road to no where
these days because you don’t have both sides being able to bring you know the differences
into an amendment to reconcile the different positions and views. So in the United States
Senate you get each side offering their views and if they don’t prevail they take it to
the next election because it’s all about the next election unlike when I first started
my legislative career is that we put that behind us and we worked on issues important
to the future of this country so the question is and it brings it to today, what do we do
about it? Well we are representative democracy, you know, if we value bipartisanship, if we
value consensus building and compromise we will get it. I often think of a comment that
was made by a former colleague of mine the former senator of Wyoming Alan Simpson who
happens to be a friend of Chancellor Dubois and Lisa’s he once said you know if you can’t
learn to compromise on issues without compromising your principles then you should not go to
congress and you shouldn’t get married. (laughter) Olympia Snowe: But the point is there’s no
other way. You have to talk to the other side. You have to respect their views or you’re
not going to get a hundred percent of what you need so we’re a representative democracy,
you know, if we demand it, we get it. Reward those that are willing to cross the political
aisle and penalize those who don’t and that’s why I’ve joined the bipartisan policy center
where I am co-chairing a commission of political reform. We will be issuing recommendations
on you know how we can make congressional reforms, political reforms, and how we encourage
and promote public service and we plan to implement them not just you know have some
report gathering dust on a table. We want to launch initiatives. We should have independent
redistricting commissions frankly, to break up you know these homogenous political districts. (applause) Olympia Snowe: We should have open primaries
allowing independents to be voting in primaries another way of muting and diluting the ideological
forces that have taken hold in these primaries. It’s a question of having more center and
right center candidates you know would emerge from primaries but it’s more far right and
far left and frankly it doesn’t matter where you are in the political spectrum you know
it’s about solving problems at the end of the day and not just taking it to the next
election. It’s not about just the fight and that’s what’s not happening and we should
have five day work weeks in Washington and what I mean by that is that you know there
are times in which they just could have concentrated on the legislative business of the nation
it means very complex issues at difficult times and the schedule routinely was and still
is you know the United States Senate well you know you come in at five thirty that’s
a bed check vote, by Thursday they’re smelling jet fumes and it’s time to leave and it’s
important to come home, go home to your constituents that’s what I did all of the time but you
should have some time in Washington, have three weeks on, one week off or go home Friday
nights and come back Sunday nights or you know Monday morning but we have to focus on
the issues that matter to the country. You have to be there and hey get to know your
colleagues, get to know one another. It makes a huge difference and it’s important to the
country. So that works and they should get to know one another, but more than anything
else, it’s about speaking out because silence is not golden you know you do not underestimate
the value and the importance and the impact of your voice. As the late Senator Warren
Rudman once said politics are too important to be left to the politician, he couldn’t
have been more right. You know, last year when there were all of these cut backs due
to the automatic cuts and there were slow downs of thousands of flights across the country
because of the reduction in the number of air traffic controllers and so congress decided
to think about it because they were going on recess. That was the only thing that was
predictable by the way were recesses. They realized they’d be getting on planes, idling
planes with angry constituents and the pilot coming over the intercom saying well this
is due to congressional budget cuts. Well they turned that around in nanoseconds because
they realized that they had to respond quickly. That’s the point you know is making an impact
in real time as well as in elections and you have the power of the social media and you
have the power of technology to create online communities instantaneously and effectively
message multiplier use it as those who have fanned the flames of polarization because
frankly the forces of division are well organized and united and so we have to weigh in you
know middle America has to weigh in because I can tell you in my travels, the majority
of Americans want their government to work at the end of the day and it needs to work
for all of us. (applause) Olympia Snowe: Thank you. Thank you. Thank
you. (applause) Olympia Snowe: Thank you. I’ll take some questions.
Yes? Audience Member 1: With the recent defeat
of the equal pay in congress, can you possibly explain why there’s so much negative voting
for equal pay? Olympia Snowe: Well you know it’s unfortunate
because this issue came up as well when I was there and I had some difficulties with
some of the language in that particular bill which I think was the same that’s true that
occurred this week and this is the unfortunate dimension of how the legislative process is
now working in the Senate because it is the greatest body on Earth. Amendments used to
be you know part of the tradition you know of offering amendments to reconcile those
differences and in this case there was a real question of open ended law suits and the way
it was defined on punitive and compensatory damages and the impact it would have and we
weren’t able to offer an amendment. I think that was true this time. So it really isn’t
an either or but it’s all part of the political system and it happens on both sides. They
offer one position on one end of the spectrum or another to appeal to their political basis
or ideological interests rather than the broader interest of the American people. So frankly
I think that that can get done with a few adjustments in that legislation. In fact,
at the time I was approached by some of the authors early on in that congress and I said
you know I think we can get it done but not to leave small businesses subjected you know
to punitive law suits and it was open because the way they had changed the legislation but
I think it could happen you know if they’re willing to work together to bridge the divide
and that’s what these amendments are all about rather than just using it as a political issue
and a political weapon and that’s what’s happened to so many of the issues that are facing this
country. It’s always about taking it to the next election; you know if you fuel the divide
you know it’s business today frankly you know. A lot of people are making a lot of money
to keep it divided to keep the political system polarized because if you solve the problem
they wouldn’t have anything to talk about, they won’t have their millions to spend on
and these third party ads you know but that’s what’s happened and so that they can score
a political point, get the opponents, get the opposition on record and then take it
to the next election in a thirty second sound bite. So it’s all about messaging. Messaging
is little talking points. I used to say to my side you know can we get beyond the three
talking point, it’s good for America, it’s bad for America, what ever and get into the
substance, get into the facts because that’s what we’ve gotten away from in the legislative
process that’s what’s changed and that’s why we have to get back to restoring some normalcy
into the legislative process and there are so many people there who want to make it work
and I think that the leadership has to allow them to make it work and let them sort out
the issues as we customarily were able to I ask, do you think moderates could get elected,
because the financial support choose to be either republican or a democrat based on your
financial support of your party? Olympia Snowe: Well you have to, I mean, I
raised my money not necessarily from all of my party that’s for sure I mean I traveled
the country and there was a time even before when I was running for reelection and I was
working to build moderate republican groups within the republican party you know and talking
about the absence of you know moderates and centrist you know you could be a conservative
and be a centrist it’s about practicality you know and reflecting you know solutions
to the every day problems that people are facing in their lives and I happen to believe
that if we support people you know politically and financially and organizationally we will
restore some sensibility and govern from what I call the sensible Senate because that’s
where most Americans are and it’s just if you think about it it’s more of the fringes
that have taken over. You know I say to young people today, you’re going to live your one
hundred and twenty five at least of course you know some medical research I mean do you
want them controlling, the fringes controlling your future and the destiny of this nation
without having a voice or contributing that voice so yes we can make a difference but
if we sit on the sidelines and observe what’s happening, if we decide that we can’t make
a difference, which we can make a difference, that’s problematic. We have to weigh in and
we have to engage, yes with our money, the contributions, with our support, with our
vocal advocacy. One of the most disturbing things that you know I read last fall in the
aftermath of a sixteen day shutdown was an article that appeared in a political newspaper,
Capital Hill Newspaper and the title of it was something to the effect of the pre-shutdown
assessments that didn’t pan out and one of which was the fact that lawmakers were surprised
there was no public backlash to that sixteen day shutdown. See there was no vocal outcry
and so we can contribute you know we contribute in myriad ways during the year, you can make
them accountable through social media in real time and also in elections. You know when
elections come around and they’re coming very quickly, you can demand accountability in
those who are running and say what are you going to do to make the government work because
that is as much of an issue as anything else because if the government doesn’t work you
can’t get your problems solved, we can’t get the country’s problems solved. If you can’t
move legislation forward in the issues that matter to this country, you can’t move the
country forward, it’s as simple as that and that’s why we’ve come to a standstill. This
isn’t our maximum potential as America, absolutely not. I don’t want you to settle for less because
when you can get more and for what we stand and that’s why we have to weigh in and when
there’s a presidential election, demand accountability from the presidential candidates that are
running. What are you going to do to make your branch of government work with the other
and vice versa because you can not have your government working in parallel universes between
the legislative and executive branch, it just doesn’t work that way and we’ve got to come
back to some sensibility and pragmatism but for the good of the country for the entire
United States of America. There’s a reason why we are the United States of America. That’s
how we were founded. (applause) Olympia Snowe: So to answer your question,
yes moderates can no more than anybody else, we can get elected because people want that.
Understand now the value in the role, you know of those who are willing to work across
the political aisle because it makes no sense, there’s no other sphere of life where you
get a hundred percent of what you want and if there is then let me know about it but
there isn’t so we have to work with the other side and we have to respect differing opinions
and we have to listen to one another to make it work we have to do that personally in our
live and we have to do it professionally and that’s what it’s all about. You’re doing it
and I’m sort of preaching to the choir here but I want you to take the message out beyond
because it can make a difference. That’s why I left the senate because I realized if I
was going to contribute in any way, it’s best to tell how it did work, how it can work,
and how we can make it work again. Thank you. (applause)

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