AUGUSTA — If she hadn’t been a public servant, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe might have been a member of the United Bikers of Maine.

Snowe, who was honored by the group at the Blaine House on Wednesday, said she had a motorcycle and a permit to ride when she was in the state Legislature in the 1970s.

But her political career took off and she never got her license.

Through the years since then, she has enjoyed being a passenger.

“I love riding, the feeling of being out on the open road,” she said. “It’s a measure of freedom you don’t ordinarily get. I did a lot of riding over the years.”

Snowe, 65, talked about her love of riding after the annual United Bikers of Maine Governor’s Tea. It’s a tradition that began in the late 1980s, when Snowe’s husband, John McKernan, was governor.

This year, the tea was a more high-powered event than usual, with Snowe, McKernan, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, and Gov. Paul LePage attending. Representatives of Maine’s two other members of Congress — Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District — also spoke briefly at the event.

While the tea is typically designed to raise awareness of safety issues heading into the motorcycle season, the group added a dimension this year by honoring Snowe for her support of its issues.

Snowe supports the group’s motto when it comes to helmet use — let those who ride decide — and sponsored federal legislation in 1992 to roll back penalties against states that failed to mandate helmet use.

“It only requires common sense,” she said. “It’s doesn’t require a law.”

About 40 bikers braved the cold to ride to the governor’s residence Wednesday, where bikers wearing leather vests covered with patches mingled with Snowe and McKernan, each of whom wore a United Bikers of Maine lapel pin.

Tim Fournier, vice president of the bikers’ group, presented Snowe with a plaque and lifetime membership. He thanked her for attending the bikers’ annual Toy Run, which is held every September in Augusta.

He noted that she has been honored as Freedom Fighter by the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame in South Dakota.

“Senator Snowe’s accomplishments have earned her national recognition,” he said.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

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