Former Senator Snowe lays out plans to restore the U.S. Senate

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Sadaf Minapara

On Nov. 11, former Senator Olympia Snowe spoke at Stanford laying out a blueprint for breaking the partisan deadlock in Washington and restoring the U.S. Senate. The event was hosted by the American Democracy in Comparative Perspective Program at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, together with the Haas Center for Public Service and Stanford in Government.

Snowe was joined by Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Research Center (BPC), a DC-based organization with an action-oriented approach of advocating for political reform. Snowe now co-chairs the BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, which recently released a report outlining 65 electoral, congressional and public service recommendations to bridge the partisan divide and transform civic life at a critical time in America’s history.

Snowe opened the panel by commenting on how her 18-year career in the U.S. Senate ended when she realized the institution would not change from within and get back to problem solving. She reflected back on the beginning of her political career when more senators – like her - would work across the aisle to craft bipartisan legislation, although today there are none who occupy this middle ground. 

But for Snowe the recent midterm elections that ushered in a new Congress have provided a unique “window to change things both for the country and the Republican Party as well.”

Snowe was optimistic that the new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is motivated to increase bipartisanship by bridging divides and restoring a robust amendment process to improve the legislation process. Similarly, the democrats will be more motivated to get things done as the 2016 presidential election approaches.

Grumet and Snowe also discussed some of the Congressional reforms presented by the Commission on Political Reform ranging from increasing the Congressional workweek to five days, to more transparent campaign finance reform and increasing voter participation. 

One of the Commission’s proposals included having a single congressional primary day to increase awareness and enhance the participation and involvement of candidates and the races themselves.

According to Snowe, the average turnout for primary elections is just 18 to 20 percent, and a move towards a single day for primary elections could increase voter participation and result in different electoral results. 

The event closed with Grument discussing the Committee’s efforts to increase public service by building incentives for talented graduates to get involved in government and serve their communities. With an audience full of students, he called on universities to think innovatively about how to institutionalize public service into the curriculum to attract students into careers in public service that help reform the system from the inside.

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