Snowe Joins in Unveiling 'Bipartisan Blueprint' for Breaking Gridlock
Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine took part in the unveiling of a national report today described as a "bipartisan blueprint" designed to reduce gridlock in Washington. Snowe, a moderate Republican, chose not to seek reelection in 2012 - in frustration, she says, with the increasingly polarized nature of American politics and the consequent inability of Congress to get anything done.
She's now co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Commission on Political Reform, which has spent the last 18 months compiling a 120-page report containing more than 60 recommendations. Among them are proposals designed to boost voter turnout - in particular, the introduction of open primaries, which would allow anybody - not just party members - to vote in primary elections.
Speaking at a news conference earlier in Washington D.C., Snowe touted the idea of a national Primary Day.
"The commission believes that we should expand the participation of voters in these primaries," Snowe said. "We think it's good for the political parties and it's good for the country. We should move away from caucuses and conventions that produce lower voter turnout."
The report also calls for Congress to spend more time in Washington, under a cycle of three full work weeks followed by one-week recesses. Other recommendations include a limit on filibusters and encouraging young Americans to choose a year of service, such as the military, public office or volunteer programs.
Sen. Snowe joins me now from the nation's Capitol. Welcome.
Snowe: "Thank you, Tom, for having me."
Porter: "Open primaries - we just heard you talking about how they will be good for political parties. But isn't the purpose of primary elections to enable the political parties to select a candidate that the party wants, and isn't the opening up of primary elections to everyone just going to work against that goal?
Snowe: "Not necessarily. I mean, I think first and foremost it's to enhance voter participation in the political primaries, and if voters feel strongly about selecting a candidate in a particular party, then they have the opportunity to do so. It's obviously another way in which to garner broader participation overall from the American electorate in these particular primaries. Because what has unfolded is the fact that people are now, as candidates, focusing on the primary more than they are in the general election, and appealing to the more solidified, hardened ideological base than otherwise would be the case if they had broader participation in those primaries."
Porter: "Why do you think this would definitely mean greater turnout? Because that hasn't always been the case, has it, when they've expanded primaries to be open? It hasn't always meant more voters have turned out."
Snowe: "You know, obviously, I think another dimension of the problem with respect to primaries where there is minimal turnout by voters, and that's why we're proposing a national Primary Day so that it will generate the kind of attention on a single primary day across the country, rather than having primaries from March all the way into September before the general election occurs. So I think that if we could have a single day that certainly could help to bolster voters' casting their ballots in a particular primary, and also, I think, get the kind of attention that these elections deserve. A lot has changed with respect to the focus of candidates today and those who are running for re-election. The attention is now really targeted towards the primary. Candidates are now more concerned about primaries than they are about general elections, because the political base has become much more solidified, much more driven and supported by outside organizations that are spending millions of dollars to put those candidates who are willing to embrace a singular ideological agenda. And that's why you see what's happening in Washington, with the legislative process virtually at a standstill, because neither side is willing to take the risk of working across the political aisle."
Porter: "Olympia Snowe, from the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, many thanks for talking."
Snowe: "Thank you, Tom. I appreciate it very much."
View the entire Bipartisan Policy Center report, "Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy." bipartisanpolicy.org/events/2014/06/governing-polarized-america-bipartisan-blueprint-strengthen-our-democracy