First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is fond of talking about her role in boosting agriculture in our state, but when asked about his motivation for unseating her, her likely Republican opponent referenced a specific American farmer: Thomas Jefferson.

“We need more citizen-servants in Washington,” Ed Thelander told me when I asked him why he is challenging the six-term incumbent. Just as Jefferson, the founding father, called for citizen-legislators and a revolution every 15 years, Thelander believes the time has come for a shake-up.

“I am not exaggerating when I look around and say I hardly recognize my country anymore,” Thelander said in his campaign announcement speech at the Maine Maritime Museum in late August. He chose the date for his announcement — Aug. 28 — because it was the 58th anniversary of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

When it comes to public service, Thelander earned his chops. A retired Navy SEAL, he was joined on stage at his kick-off with the Afghan translator who served with him in the Central Asian nation, from which the U.S. withdrew its forces Aug. 31.

During his time with the elite military unit, he learned the importance of group cohesion and understanding the situation on the ground, he says. In addition to Afghanistan, Thelander served in Yemen — a troubled hot spot in the Middle East.

It was the Navy that first brought Thelander to Maine, where he settled with his wife and three children in Lincoln County a decade ago. In his life after the SEALs, he continued to find ways to serve the public, first as a volunteer firefighter in Alna and more recently as a deputy in the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. He’s used his advanced firearms skills to train law enforcement officers across the state and worked as a security consultant also for well-known brands like Rolex and Nike.

“I choose my clients carefully,” he told me. “I take pride in the fact there are no skeletons in my closet.”

With some modesty, Thelander described his skills as a woodworker, recounting how he built his former home in Virginia himself. A regular participant in the annual toboggan championship at the Camden Snow Bowl, he builds his team’s sled each year.

“There’s no shortage of talented woodworkers in Maine, but I still like to keep my hand in the game,” he reflected with a smile.

In recent years, Thelander also worked as an excavator. Together with his contracting work, he’s applied his building skills to the nonprofit Stepping Stones, which helps single mothers leaving difficult circumstances find temporary housing.

With rugged good looks and an earnest demeanor, Thelander already has appealing attributes for a candidate. But he’s also realistic about being new to the game of politics. Buoyed by confidence not just in his own abilities, the Bristol resident sees a role for ordinary men in the halls of power.

“We have to tackle the apathy in this country,” he states with purpose, explaining that only 30% of veterans currently vote. What drives him is the sense that too many ordinary people are being left behind by career politicians.

Residual public anger at the sloppy manner in which the Biden administration pulled out of Afghanistan last month suggests the winds could be blowing the way of candidates like Ed Thelander next fall. Having dedicated his career to date to making people safer, the former SEAL has a message for Mainers in the first district who fear they’ve lost their voice.

In the year ahead, he said, he’s going to prove he’s got their back.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.