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The 16-Year-Old Running for Governor of Kansas

Jack Bergeson is trying to be the next governor of Kansas, even though he won't be able to legally cast a vote when the chance comes.

By Hunter Woodall

Jack Bergeson is trying to be the next governor of Kansas, even though he won't be able to legally cast a vote when the chance comes.

He's not letting that dampen his run for the state's leading office in 2018.

"Under Kansas law, there is no law governing the qualifications for governor, not one," said Bryan Caskey, director of elections at the Kansas secretary of state's office. "So there's seriously nothing on the books that lays out anything, no age, no residency, no experience. Nothing."

Bergeson, a 16-year-old from Wichita, said finding that out sparked his interest and made him think, "Oh, I could do that."

"I thought, you know, let's give the people of Kansas a chance," Bergeson said. "Let's try something new that has never really been tried anywhere else before."

Other states have a minimum age, including Missouri, which requires the governor be at least 30 years old, according to the secretary of state's website.

Bergeson described his run for the Democratic nomination as an "anti-establishment" campaign that would focus on bringing "a clean slate."

In a phone interview Monday, Bergeson said he's a junior at The Independent School in Wichita. He said he looks up to Bernie Sanders, Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura and former President Dwight Eisenhower.

"I'm getting in to give the people a chance," Bergeson said. "It doesn't matter much if I win or lose. I'm giving people the option."

The teenager said he wants to "radically change" the health care system and pledged his support to fully legalize marijuana for medical purposes. He's also willing to explore legalization for recreational use.

But he also said he's more conservative when it comes to gun rights, noting that he supports open carry.

"I think if you offer the people of Kansas something radical, something new so then that shows that we can move in a new direction, I think that will put the Democratic Party in a good position to win the seat next year," Bergeson said.

He is among a handful of declared Democratic candidates who have announced runs for the seat, including former state Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Arden Andersen, an Olathe doctor.

The plan is for Alexander Cline, a classmate of Bergeson's, to be his lieutenant governor.

Cline, 17, is expected to have the ability to do one thing Bergeson can't: vote in 2018.

A teenager, let alone a high school student, running for governor in 2018 caught some political observers by surprise, including Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University.

"If this guy is at all reasonable, it could be a very good thing," Smith said. "It's always such challenge to get young people to politically engage. ... I'm not saying he'll win the nomination or anything, but if he could talk to other, maybe not 16-year-olds but people just turning 18 and get them to engage, I mean it could be a really good thing."

(c)2017 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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