Maine’s Republican Senator Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire instead of seek re-election may have been a favorable move for Democrats, but it’s also a loss for women seeking to gain power and a voice in the male-dominated Congress.
Snowe released in a statement that her decision to retire was prompted by her disapproval with the increase of polarization in Washington and general partisanship in the Senate in recent years. Although Snowe claimed these reasons were the motivation behind her decision, as a long-time pro-choice Republican Senator, I am sure the recent attempts by GOP to restrict and mandate several women’s health freedoms were a factor.
The GOP has made strong efforts in the past few years to influence or even reverse progressive views on the Senate and House. Senator Snowe is considered to be one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress because of her alliance with Democrats on issues of women’s health, social issues, and LGBT rights. Most recently, she sided with President Barack Obama on his health care reform, including support for his birth control compromise, by sponsoring legislation that requires insurance companies to offer contraception benefits. During President George W. Bush’s time in office, she often opposed his proposals on tax cuts, abortion, stem cell research and Alaskan oil drilling. She was often responsible for crucial votes in a closely divided senate against majority of her party. Snowe received a lot of criticism from members in her party for supporting Obama. Her response to the criticism was, “I’d rather have company, but it’s a different political world we’re in. Most people represent either red states or blue states.”
After Snowe’s farewell, the percentage of women who make up the Senate could fall below 15%, which is already small. According to a recent Congressional Research Services report, the number female representatives have slightly dropped in comparison to the most recent Congress. In a country where women make up over half the total population, only 16.6% comprise the House. The percentage of female senators may become even less than 15% if Senator Snowe is not replaced by a woman.
Snowe is one of the few remaining Republican moderates in Congress. Even now, she continues to fight for women’s rights, as she has confirmed to vote against the Blunt amendment, which will allow employers to deny any health care service that goes against their “religious beliefs and moral convictions.” Her departure will be a detriment to both major political parties and women everywhere.
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