Washington County physician Sam Hunkler actually does own a black, old school doctor’s bag. The physician under whom he served his residency in Lewiston passed it on to him, the way Olympian runners pass the torch. While Dr. Hunkler runs as an independent candidate for governor of Maine, though, his time-tested healing tools will get a little break.

With honest blue eyes and a soft-spoken manner, Dr. Hunkler isn’t one for titles, so I just call him Sam – which is fine by me. This simple approach is a little ironic given that he is campaigning to be chief executive of the Pine Tree State, but it’s also reflective in a way of the people he seeks to represent.

To get on the ballot, Sam collected over 4,000 signatures. A good percentage of those came from passersby as he stood outside post offices. We meet for a sandwich in Rockland, and he tells me the Knox County seat was good to him signature-wise. He’s in town to give a talk on healing in Tenant’s Harbor that evening – neither a rally nor a fundraiser.

“I’m not going to spend any more than $5,000 on this campaign,” he tells me, but he won’t let me buy his sandwich. Already, he’s put over 10,000 miles on his old, white Buick, which is likely to see a lot more action in the months ahead. Getting money out of politics is priority of his, and he’s not taking state funding.

Before meeting Sam, I mentioned him to a friend who is currently serving in the Maine Legislature. He intrigues me, my friend tells me, but why won’t he take any positions? After all, that’s what politicians do – even if they end up flip-flopping when all is said and done.

Sam smiles when I confront him about this.

“This isn’t about me,” he explains. “What’s important isn’t what I think, it’s what the people of Maine think, and finding common ground between adversarial sides. We spend too much time defending our positions when what we really need to be doing is solving problems.”

That said, he actually has taken some positions. He encourages me to read through his website standwithsam2022.com more thoroughly than I did at first glance. On it, the questions he raises point to his priorities. Healing a traumatized population, finding ways Mainers can afford to stay in our homes as property values soar high above median wages, making our prison system about rehabilitation and not simply retribution, and making Maine safe for children.

“We neglect both the young and the old in our society,” he observes. “Why not bring them together? In Africa they think we’re crazy because of the way we treat people here, and they’re right.”

Sam would know. He’s been a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya and continues to support a small tribe there with regular contributions. Before coming to Maine, he practiced medicine in Alaska as the only doctor on an island of 1,500 people. Still, that’s more than three times the population of Beal’s Island, across the bridge from Jonesport, where he lives today.

As a rural doctor who has tended to Mainers across an arc that stretches from Androscoggin to Penobscot and Washington counties, Sam has a pretty good idea of what people’s problems are at the granular level.

“If you meet the criteria, MaineCare is great, pays for everything, but so many are just outside of those narrow perimeters,” he says. “There are many people in our state without insurance because they can’t afford it.”

Despite his bedside manner, Sam has attracted some ire. Republicans call him a liberal (though everything he’s said to me sounds more libertarian) and Democrats still smarting from the Eliot Cutler effect call him a splitter. How long have we been told we can’t do something because of its collateral impact? It’s been awhile now, and the “splitter” argument – once made funny by Monty Python – is now getting pretty stale.

Not everyone stays in his/her appointed lane. When I ask him who his people are, Sam says it’s the 60% in the middle. The political parties today cater to the extreme and leave independent-minded folk, like most Mainers, behind. They handcuff politicians to special interests and leave the rest of us behind.

Did I say that or did Sam the candidate say that? Frankly after talking for 40 minutes, it’s hard to tell. That is precisely in the good doctor’s charm and appeal. We’ve all been afflicted by our broken political system; perhaps it’s time to take a chance on someone with a little experience in good, old-fashioned healing.

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