Over 31 years, the yearly fundaising bash of the bipartisan Womenwinning (formerly the Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund) has become a predominantly DFL affair. Womenwinning backs candidates for state and local office who are both female and prochoice on abortion -- and while the Republican Party of Minnesota has become quite friendly to the former, it has grown hostile to the latter. 

Nevertheless, Monday's reception was warm for featured speaker Olympia Snowe, the longtime Republican U.S. senator from Maine who cited hyper-partisanship in Washington as the reason for her retirement last year, after serving as a member of Congress since 1978. 

Snowe came to praise Womenwinning's bipartisan intentions and the across-the-aisle dealing of Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who said she considers Snowe her Senate mentor. Both Snowe and Klobuchar noted that to the extent the Senate has accomplished anything this year and in recent years on the federal budget, environmental protection and the prevention of violence against women, female senators have been key actors. 

Snow also brought the message contained in her new book about Washington, "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress." It's that making Congress functional will require a groundswell from the American public. Voters have to demand bipartisan behavior from their representatives and senators, and reward it when they see it with their votes, she said. 

"We have to reward bipartisanship," she said. "It has to become a political necessity, not just a nice theory." Snowe said Minnesota did as much when it reelected Klobuchar last November with more than 65 percent of the vote -- a showing that was noticed in Washington, she added. 

The Womenwinning experience illustrates what a tall order Snowe presents. Founded by both DFL and Republican pro-choice feminists, Womenwinning today can find no female GOP legislator who fits that bill. Like many organizations that finance candidates, it puts a higher priority on its signature issue than its bipartisan tradition. Much the same goes for labor, business and environmental groups. 

But since leaving the Senate at age 66, Snowe has been exploring the possibility of a new kind of grassroots organization to encourage bipartisan lawmaking. She invited Minnesotans to follow her efforts via the Bipartisan Policy Center.