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Sen. Snowe from outside the Capitol looking in

Former Sen.

Former Sen. Olympia Snowe realized she had to make changes from outside the doors of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., if lawmakers could ever alter their work habits, she told msnbc on Tuesday.

When the three-term Republican senator from Maine decided not to run for reelection in 2012 after 34 years on Capitol Hill, she was one of the last moderate lawmakers in an increasingly polarized Congress.

"I wasn't giving up the fight. I was engaging in the fight outside the institution because I felt that there was no other way to alter the political equation within the institution," the former senator told Morning Joe's Louis Burgdorf during the greenroom interview.

Each American must insist that lawmakers in Washington work together, build consensus, and place a premium on bipartisanship in order for change to take place. They must engage with their representatives about their expectations to produce results and address problems affecting the country.

But, to break the stalemate in Congress, she said, "it's up to all of us." She further explains the polarization in her new book, Fighting for Common Ground.

Problems in Congress have accrued over the last few years, and it seems almost impossible to reach a bipartisanship atmosphere in Congress. But there were always existing trends that eventually developed with polarization and partisanship. To combat the problem, Snowe became involved with a new initiative housed at the Bipartisan Policy Center that encourages Americans to become "Citizens for Political Reform." Included in the effort is the Common Ground Project, which provides Americans with insight into the key issues before Congress and offers options for the two sides to agree.

Elected officials should work for solutions and produce results. If they don't, there should be repercussions, she said.

"There should be a penalty at the ballot box: A reward for those who do, and a penalty and punishment for those who don't, and vote them out of office. There's no other way in my estimation to getting anything done if they're not willing to work."

She founded Olympia's List in 2012 to recognize and support elected officials who demonstrate a commitment to solving the country's biggest issues. She told msnbc she will donate to candidates on both sides of the aisle who will contribute to consensus building.

Members of Congress aren't giving issues the needed time to produce resolutions because they compress a five-day work week into three days.

"By Thursday they're already asking, 'When are we going to leave?' 'When is the last vote?'" she said. "The point is, if you don't concentrate the entire Congress on a full work week, then very little gets done because otherwise you're really compressing all of the activities in two or three days."

Watch the former senator's "Making Things Happen" segment from Tuesday's Morning Joe.

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