Maine’s races for governor are usually multi-candidate affairs. The first one I covered, in 1986, featured four entrants, all of whom had a plausible claim to the office.

Of the two independents, John Menario, a former Portland city manager, had extensive managerial experience; Sherry Huber was a noted environmentalist. Then there were the party nominees, who’d both won competitive primaries: the Democrat, Attorney General Jim Tierney, and the Republican and eventual winner, John McKernan, then 1st District Congressman.

The fields haven’t always been as distinguished, but there have been enough competent independents for voters to elect two: James Longley in 1974, and Angus King in 1994 and 1998.

As partisan divides have hardened, first in Washington and now, regrettably, in Augusta, it’s been more difficult to retain room on the ballot.

Even before his current legal troubles, Eliot Cutler earned scorn from progressives and even moderate Democrats for twice “splitting the vote” and helping elect Paul LePage — the most divisive of all recent governors — in 2010 and 2014 with less than a majority.

Supposedly, a 2016 referendum question was going to fix the problem by installing ranked-choice voting for all state elections but — as sponsors should have known ­— a 19th century constitutional switch to plurality voting, after repeated gubernatorial elections were thrown into the House of Representatives, meant that wasn’t going to fly.


So despite ranked-choice tallies elsewhere, the only one where it would likely have mattered, for governor, won’t happen, as long as overly intense partisanship prevails.

Voters, fortunately, have figured this out. Despite two former Democrats filing as independents in 2018, then-Attorney General Janet Mills won a majority, for the first time since 1982, when Democrat Joe Brennan won a second term over Republican Charlie Cragin.

This time, as also hasn’t happened since 1982, it may be “head to head” between Mills and LePage.

Or maybe not.

He’s far under the radar at this point, but Sam Hunkler, an independent from Beals, is trying to get on the ballot, which involves the not-inconsiderable task of gathering 4,000 certified signatures from registered voters.

He’s been a primary care physician for 38 years, and has lived in eight Maine towns along the way. He seems to have the non-political, open-minded perspective such a career might suggest, and if he has any ulterior motive, I couldn’t detect it.


We met for lunch recently, and it was, frankly, refreshing to talk about state government with a candidate who won’t be the “beneficiary” of many millions of dollars in attack ads between now and November.

Sam, as he prefers to be known, isn’t accepting any donations, but he is getting help with signatures — something he quickly discovered was needed after a few trips up and down the coast to more populated parts of the state.

His motto: “I am standing for respect, kindness, gratitude, compassion, and fairness.” Some might find that naïve; I found it novel.

Hunkler isn’t taking hard and fast positions on the concerns that Mainers would like the state to help solve; he seems to have realized that choosing up sides has become something of a mania, and promising any particular approach will alienate at least as many voters as it attracts.

As you can read on his website, he sees a leader’s job as conducting a negotiation rather than prescribing a course of action.

That does have its attractions. There’s something a bit sour about the 2022 governor’s race already.


It’s not just that the two nominees have been in politics a long time — Mills since she was first elected district attorney in 1980, LePage since he joined the Waterville City Council more than two decades ago.

Though both come from the conservative ends of their parties, what seems most to mark them is inflexibility.

Mills has vetoed a surprising number of bills considering that she’s served with a solidly Democratic Legislature. LePage set all-time veto records that its doubtful will ever been broken, sometimes disagreeing as fiercely with fellow Republicans as opposition Democrats.

Both have closed themselves off to informal access with reporters, legislators and their constituents, holding tightly to the reins of power and making no bones about it.

That’s why someone who takes the opposite tack, and wants to be an honest broker, is worth a look.

Sam Hunkler undoubtedly knows that votes will be hard to find. Neither side wants to give the other an opening, as we will be reminded thousands of times.

Still, we have to admire someone willing to step forward, despite the odds and despite legions of naysayers. That, too, is a big part of democracy — if we can keep it.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, commentator and reporter since 1984, is the author of three books. His first, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now out in paperback.  He welcomes comment at


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