Olympia J. Snowe was born Olympia Jean Bouchles on February 21, 1947, in Augusta, Maine. She is the daughter of the late George Bouchles, a native of Mytilene, Greece, and the late Georgia Goranites Bouchles, whose parents immigrated to America from Sparta. After the death of her parents, she was raised by her aunt and uncle, the late Mary and James Goranites of Auburn, Maine. Olympia attended St. Basil’s Academy, a Greek Orthodox school in Garrison, New York, and graduated from Edward Little High School in Auburn. She earned a degree in political science from the University of Maine in 1969.
With her election in 1994, Olympia became only the second woman Senator in history to represent Maine, following the late Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, who served from 1949 – 1973. In November 2006, she was re-elected to a third six-year term in the United States Senate with 74 percent of the vote.
Before her election to the Senate, Olympia represented Maine’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for sixteen years. Senator Snowe is only the fourth woman in history to be elected to both houses of Congress and the first woman in American history to serve in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress. When first elected to Congress in 1978, at the age of 31, Olympia was the youngest Republican woman, and the first Greek-American woman, ever elected to Congress. She has won more federal elections in Maine than any other person since World War II.
Olympia’s dedicated work in the U.S. Senate has garnered her nationwide recognition as a leading policymaker in Washington. In 2005, she was named the 54th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. In 2006 Time Magazine named her one of the top ten U.S. Senators. Calling her “The Caretaker,” Time magazine wrote of Snowe: “Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every policy debate in Washington, but while Snowe is a major player on national issues, she is also known as one of the most effective advocates for her constituents.”
Focusing her attention on efforts to build bipartisan consensus on key issues that matter to Maine and America, Olympia successfully built a reputation as one of Congress’ leading moderates. In 1999, she became co-chair of the Senate Centrist Coalition with Senator John Breaux (D-LA), and in that same year, she was cited by Congressional Quarterly for her centrist leadership.
Olympia has worked extensively on a number of issues, such as budget and fiscal responsibility; education, including education technology; national security; women’s issues; health care, including prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients; welfare reform; oceans and fisheries issues; and campaign finance reform. She has also led efforts important to her home state of Maine, including successfully working to overturn the Department of Defense’s recommendations in 2005 to close two of Maine’s military installations, a successful push for federal disaster funds in response to a devastating 1998 ice storm and the 2006 flooding in Southern Maine, increased funding for the Togus veterans hospital, reauthorization of the Northeast Dairy Compact so critical to the survival of Maine’s small family dairy farms, and opposition to a proposed federal rule that would have devastated the state’s lobster fishery.
In 2001, Olympia became the first Republican woman ever to secure a full-term seat on the Senate Finance Committee, and only the third woman in history to join the panel. The Committee is considered one of the most powerful in Congress with jurisdiction over two-thirds of the entire federal budget, because its members author tax, trade, health care, welfare, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security-related legislation. Olympia also served as a member of the Subcommittee on Health Care, which oversees matters related to health insurance, Medicare and the uninsured.
As former Chair, and later Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Olympia fought fiercely for our nation’s small businesses. Through her proactive legislative efforts and strong advocacy on behalf of America’s small businesses, she consistently championed affordable and flexible health care options, increased access to capital, a fair share of Federal contracting dollars and opportunities, and reduced tax and regulatory burden, among other issues.
Also a former member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, she was the former Chair and later Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard where she worked to pass legislation to allow Maine’s fish and fishing communities to thrive. A former member of the Senate Budget Committee, she was a key voice in establishing education as a priority within the context of the first balanced budget since 1969, and in 1999, 2000, and 2001 authored the amendment that for the first time created a reserve fund for a Medicare prescription drug benefit. She also sat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Prior to her service on the Finance Committee, Senator Snowe had been the fourth woman ever to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she was the first woman Senator to chair the Subcommittee on Seapower, which oversees the Navy and Marine Corps. Snowe was a leading voice in the Senate on issues related to women in military and shipbuilding matters.
During her tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, she co-chaired the Congressional Caucus on Women’s issues for ten years, and provided leadership in establishing the Office of Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health. She also served as a member of the House Budget Committee; of House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she was Ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on International Operations; and of former House Select Committee on Aging, where she was Ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Human Services.
She served in both Houses of the Maine Legislature, first elected to the Maine House – representing her home town of Auburn – in 1973 to the seat left vacant by the death of her first husband, the late Peter Snowe, in an auto accident. She was re-elected in 1974, and was elected to the Maine Senate representing Androscoggin County in 1976.
Senator Snowe is married to former Maine Governor John R. McKernan Jr. and lives in Falmouth, Maine and Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston, Maine.