There may not be buds on the trees nor robins on the lawn but there is another sign that spring is coming. Candidates are filing to run for state elections. You can find the current roster on mainecampaignfinance.com.
Nine candidates have registered to run for governor so far. There are three Republicans, three Democrats, one Green Independent, one Libertarian and one independent. How does one handicap a race with nine candidates? A glance at total contributions to date says it all.
Governor Janet Mills leads the pack, with over $1.6 million in hand. Former Governor Paul LePage stands at about half that amount. After that, the fundraising falls off a cliff. The next closest, “close” being a relative term, is Republican Michael Heath with $4,268. Democrat John Glowa has raised $2,066, Green Independent Michael Barden $299 and the three remaining candidates are reporting no contributions thus far.
It is not a given that the candidate with the biggest war chest will win the election, but assuming the gap between Mills and LePage and the rest of the field remains similar, the Blaine House is likely out of reach for all but two of the nine.
The problem for the candidates who are neither Janet Mills nor Paul LePage is that this race has already been called. It’s a contest between the top two, and try though they might, the rest of the candidates will find it difficult to attract any attention. The media will give them token coverage. They may not be invited to debates. For also-rans, if you don’t stand a chance, you don’t get a chance, and if you don’t get a chance, you don’t stand a chance.
One candidate is wearing his lack of contributions as a badge of honor. Independent Sam Hunkler, a physician from Beals, is determined to take the Blaine House through sweat equity alone. He is making a stand against the customary high-budget, high-visibility campaigns to which we have become sadly accustomed, expressing his intention to get out there and cover Maine like white on rice.
His “Stand With Sam” website explains. A banner runs along the bottom: “Accepting No Donations. Support Welcome.” By “support” he means making signs, organizing engagements and “spreading the word.” He stands for “finding common ground…, respect, kindness, gratitude, compassion and fairness.” His intention is to self-fund his campaign, spending “less than $5,000, excluding travel.”
It is a conundrum. We all profess to hate the electoral system and campaign season. We deplore the massive expenditures, the buffoonish ads, the wild accusations, the rancorous mudslinging. Then someone like Sam Hunkler comes along and we say, “Oh, he’ll never win.” Because it seems a candidate simply cannot win an election without the full catastrophe — the money, the ads, the fulminating, the hyperbole. Otherwise there’s just a good guy with his head in the clouds.
When Angus King first ran for governor, he thought long and hard about how to run. He wanted above all to run an issue-based campaign, but he also acknowledged that without the standard trappings of a campaign (lawn signs, brochures), without enough money to be a real presence, it would be hard going.
He had some name recognition and respect thanks to his public television show, he had business connections, an obsessive background in the history of Maine, a congenial personality and an articulate delivery of his intentions. Yet he still won his first election by the skin of his teeth, with a plurality, not a majority. For a statewide candidate without King’s attributes, what are the chances?
You’ll not see Hunkler on the ballot in June. Independents do not have primaries; they go straight to the general election after qualifying. They must register to run, meet age and residency requirements and gather at least 4,000 qualified signatures from Maine voters. They will then appear on the November ballot.
The least we can do for Sam is what he asks. Organize an event for him in your town. The media will treat him as little more than a curiosity, so his only hope to make his pitch may be in your living room. If you say you hate typical electioneering, it’s the least you can do.
The stakes are so very high this year. The parties are a convenient stand-in for the divisions that have rocked our country. Many sins will be forgiven, and many virtues ignored, in the pitched battle to win control of legislatures, gubernatorial seats and Congress. The qualifications and desirability of the candidates come in a distant second.
We are not likely to get a chance to hear whether Sam Hunkel, or Michael Barden, or Kenneth Capron, or Harrison Kemp might be an appealing candidate. It seems there is no way to be thoughtful about the November election. We will simply be battered into submission by the parties.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.