Olympia Snowe (born 1947) overcame the early deaths of both of her parents and her first husband to build a strong political career grounded in fiscal conservatism and to forge a fulfilling personal life based on a strong second marriage and community involvement.
Olympia Snowe's career is characterized by a number of firsts. Most notably, when she was elected to Congress from the Maine second congressional district in 1978 at the age of 31, she was the youngest Republican and the first Greek American woman to serve in Congress. As a U.S. Senator representing the state of Maine, Snowe is well-known for her work on budget-deficit reduction, fiscal issues, health care, women's issues, and foreign affairs.
Snowe was born Olympia Jean Bouchles in 1947 in Augusta, Maine. Her father, George, emigrated to the United States from Mytilene, Greece, and her mother, Georgia Goranites Bouchles, was a second-generation Greek whose parents had come to America from Sparta. Snowe's parents died when she was young, and she was raised by her Aunt Mary and Uncle James Goranites of Auburn, Maine. After attending St. Basil's Academy in Garrison, New York, Snowe completed her secondary education at Edward Little High School in Auburn. She went on to receive a degree in political science from the University of Maine at Orono in 1969.
Snowe sparked her political career from the ashes of tragedy. She was first elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1973 to fill the seat that was left vacant by her first husband, Peter Snowe. She was re-elected to the seat for a full two-year term in 1974. When Snowe's term was up in the House, she ran for, and was elected to, the Maine Senate in 1976, where she chaired the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Institutional Services. In this position, she gained recognition for her work on health care issues and for sponsoring legislation in the health field. She is also a strong advocate for children's and family issues. "We are here today to send one unmistakable message to deadbeat parents," she declared in a statement released by her office on March 29, 1995. "To deadbeat parents we are saying your days of parental irresponsibility are over. We must act now to bring hope and financial stability to the millions of children and their single-parents who depend on support from absent parents—and that means both mothers and fathers."
In 1978 Snowe was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Maine's second congressional district, where she earned respect for her leadership as cochair of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues. She was also a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and was a leading member of the former House Select Committee on Aging, where she served as ranking Republican on its Subcommittee on Human Services.
Snowe served eight terms in the U.S. House before her election to the U.S. Senate in 1994. She carried over her strong Maine ties into her political career, becoming known as a grass-roots supporter. In her campaign, she emphasized local issues, such as the closing of the Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine and the possibility of the closing of another, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.
In the 104th Congress, Snowe is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, where she serves on the Subcommittees on Fisheries and Oceans; Merchant Marine and Surface Transportation; and Consumer, Foreign Commerce, and Tourism. Snowe also serves on the Senate Budget Committee; the Senate Committee on Small Business; and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where she chairs the subcommittee on International Operations and serves on the subcommittees on European Affairs, Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, and African Affairs.
Snowe is married to former Maine governor John R. McKernan, Jr. and lives in Auburn, Maine, where she is a member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Lewiston-Auburn. She is an active member of many civic and community groups. □