Karmo Sanders wants to be the next former Marden’s worker to occupy the Blaine House. Sanders, the folksy comedian whose alter-ego Birdie Googins pitched for the discount retailer in TV commercials seen in homes across Maine for years, is running for governor in 2018.

Sanders says she’s serious.

If Donald Trump can be president, Sanders figures she’s at least got a shot at becoming governor. Paul LePage did it, and he worked as general manager at Marden’s before moving on to the Blaine House.

“I can stand up and talk to anybody about anything. Ask me anything. I’ve got ideas,” she said. “We need a real conversation without a political agenda, and I want to start that conversation. I am ‘we the people,’ and it’s time that people who speak like the people start speaking for the people.”

Sanders, 66, is a registered Democrat, but she plans to run without major party affiliation, building her campaign around what she calls the Party of Common Sense. Her platform will focus on finding solutions through compromise and collaboration, particularly related to living wages, access to health care and education reform that’s focused on better pay for teachers.

Sanders, who grew up in Oxford County and lives in Scarborough, has not taken out paperwork or begun the process of registering with the state ethics commission, all of which will be necessary if she begins raising money for the campaign or if her work grows beyond the exploratory level. To get on the November 2018 gubernatorial ballot, she will need to collect at least 4,000 signatures of registered Maine voters. She cannot begin collecting those signatures until Jan. 1. Sanders has formed an exploratory committee of family members and friends to advise her, and she has begun a search for a campaign manager.

Sanders is considering legally changing her first name from Martha, her given name, to her nickname so her name appears on the ballot as “Karmo Sanders,” because that’s how most people know her.

In addition to her work as an actress and playwright, Sanders works part time as an aide at a retirement home in Scarborough. In the fall, she will teach a playwriting class at the University of Southern Maine.

Payne Ratner, an acting friend who is advising Sanders on her bid, said he wasn’t sure how serious Sanders was when she broached the subject, but he quickly recognized the earnestness of her interest and intent. Ratner will help Sanders write speeches and prepared remarks. He agreed to help because he appreciates that Sanders treats people fairly and is open-minded. He’s known her for about 25 years, meeting her through theater.

“She is just extremely practical. No one has more common sense than she does,” Ratner said. “She is able to look at an issue and intellectualize it. She sees the heart of an issue, not the ideology. She is driven by her compassion and her empathy.”

Sanders’ political aspirations grew from the grief that followed the death of her husband, Jerry, in 2013. They were married 42 years, and Sanders had to reshape her life and her identity after his death. She put comedy on hold, setting aside her high-energy alter-ego because “I lost my sense of humor.”

She emerged from what she called “four years of winter” during last year’s presidential campaign, which she found humorous on one level and horrifying on others. Trump’s success gave her fodder for her comedy and caused her to think differently about her personal ambitions. The political history of the United States is filled with examples of candidates who transitioned from careers in entertainment to become leaders at the state and federal levels, she said. Al Franken, a senator from Minnesota, began his public life as a comedian, working on “Saturday Night Live.” The actor Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California, and Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler, was governor of Minnesota.

Given her statewide recognition and what she calls her “common-sense approach to compromise,” she decided that running for the highest office in Maine was both practical and realistic. The timing is good, in her personal life and in the current political arena. “And besides, I need a job,” she said, promising that her campaign would include humor. “I have good makeup, and I’ll never wear a pantsuit or do a comb-over. That is a promise I can keep.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes