Bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., seems as rare as a visit from Haley’s Comet, former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe told a UCF audience Thursday. But she said young people can help solve that problem by speaking up and insisting that government leaders abandon the politics of division and seek out compromises and consensus.
Snowe’s presentation about “How to Fix Congress” was part of a daylong visit to campus that launched the Presidential Distinguished Visitors Series. President John C. Hitt established the series to spotlight a variety of solution-oriented speakers of national and international impact.
Hitt introduced Snowe as a “distinguished moderate in the Republican Party” and a “leading voice for bridging the growing partisan divide of recent years that has stymied progress on so many issues facing our country.”
Snowe, who represented Maine for 18 years in the Senate, said a sea change in Congress is necessary for the country to find long-term solutions for unsettled issues such as immigration and the future of Medicare and Social Security.
“My mission now is to change political dynamics in our country,” she said earlier during a Q&A session with students Thursday morning. “What is lacking today is listening to others…People are living in a more politically solidified world. Unfortunately, you get the results you have in Washington. They’re not willing to obtain the view from the other side.”
During the Q&A session, Snowe fielded questions about her career, Washington politics and how to use public service to help others.
While she served in Congress, Snowe said she made a point of working with Democrats.
“You have to have willingness to sit down and engage the other side. That’s the way it used to work; they don’t do that anymore,” she said. “You have to be resilient and see through someone else’s eyes. Look at the facts; it might change your mind.”
Snowe urged students to push themselves outside their comfort zone to succeed and to take time to help others.
“It’s about what can you do to make the world better for others. It’s about connecting to the world around you,” she said. “If we get locked down in our own world, it won’t make a better world.”
Snowe is the author of “Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress.” She believes a citizens’ movement holding government accountable is the primary solution to the gridlock that prompted her to leave the Senate instead of seeking re-election in 2012.
“Legislating has been replaced by messaging to political constituencies and to the ideological bases,” with the perpetual goals of raising campaign contributions and winning re-elections, she said.
Solutions include having independent redistricting commissions in states so that political districts aren’t drawn primarily to make sure politicians can get re-elected. She said campaign finance reform also is necessary, and she said Congress should work five days a week.
She also said young people need to get involved because they have so much at stake with the future of our country. She encouraged them to leverage the power they hold through social media.
“Do not underestimate your voice,” she said. “Do not underestimate the impact you can have.”
When Snowe was introduced, she praised the vision and leadership of Hitt, whom she called a “distinguished president” and “tremendous asset to the University of Maine,” where he previously served as president before coming to UCF. She praised Hitt’s pursuits of partnerships and innovation and UCF’s focus on solving problems.
“That’s the kind of spirit that should be adopted in the United States these days,” she said.