Over in Kansas, a group of teenagers have found a loophole in legislation that allows them to run for state governor. What could this mean for young people here in the UK?

No Franchise, No Problem – the Teenagers Running for State Governor

picture from VOA

An extraordinary situation has emerged in Kansas, wherein six teenage boys (and a dog) have decided to run for state governor, and thanks to a loophole in legislation, they are perfectly within their rights to do so. Well, all except Angus the dog, whose application was unfortunately, but admittedly fairly, denied by the Kansas secretary of state’s office. However, this unusual gubernatorial race is not exclusive to Kansas; Vermont also stipulates no minimum age to run for governor, which allowed 13 year old Ethan Sonneborn, a Democrat, to begin his bid for the state’s top office. So what is it about the current political climate that inspired three Republicans, two Democrats, an Independent, and a Libertarian, all of whom are 13 to 18, to run for governor in their respective states?

While these candidates clearly have their ideological differences, the one thing they have in common is the aim of using their campaigns to combat the so-called ‘crisis of political apathy’ amongst young people, and to push action for the issues most important to them. The latter is considered particularly important by 17 year old Republican candidate Tyler Ruzich, whose campaign has a strong focus on improving public education standards in Kansas; he told the NY Times they had become a ‘national embarrassment’. Indeed, it is understandable that many young people feel ignored by those in positions of political power; no wonder they appear ‘disengaged’ from politics when they are disregarded at every turn, and their voices are not being listened to. While it is unfair to say younger members of society are ‘apathetic’ towards politics, it is certainly true that many are reluctant to get involved, as they feel no matter what they do, nothing will change for them, because they are not able to vote and therefore have no say.

However, these candidates have a rare opportunity to drastically change how many young people view politics. Instead of seeing politicians they can’t identify with, and have no reason to believe will act in their best interest, they will see young people like themselves, standing up for issues that are a priority to the younger generation. This is likely to result in young people feeling more represented on the political stage; that there is someone ‘fighting their corner’, thus giving them hope that change is in fact possible.

Not only are they helping to empower other young people, but they are sending a crucial message about the power of their generation. They are refusing to accept the mischaracterisation of young people as lazy and apathetic, and despite not being able to vote, have found a clever alternative way of getting themselves heard. Their actions show they are capable of a high level of reasoning and political understanding, which compels older members of society to take notice, and take their concerns seriously. But could something like this happen in the UK? The short answer is probably not, as here there are clear rules that one must but at least 18 years of age in order to run for MP. Nevertheless, young Britons may still be inspired by the actions of their American counterparts; this could result in greater youth support for the growing ‘Votes at 16’ movement, which, if successful, would give young people the voice they deserve in politics.

Despite being perfectly satisfied with supporting a President who believes arming teachers with AK- 47s is the best solution to gun violence, many legislators in Kansas refuse to support the right of highly able candidates under 18 to run for state governor. Representative Blake Carpenter is championing the bill to impose age restrictions on entering the gubernatorial race, which was moved forward by the state’s House of Representatives at the beginning of this month. While it is likely the bill will pass, as most other US states already impose explicit age restrictions on running for governor, it will not take effect until next January, meaning that these younger candidates are still in with a chance of being elected.

So how realistic is this chance? Even the candidates themselves admit that their chances of actually winning the race are slim, with 16 year old Joseph Tutera telling the Washington Post, ‘The day a 17 year old wins governor of any state will be the day pigs fly’. Indeed, these candidates are in for a gruelling race against several seasoned politicians such as Kris Kobach and Jeff Colyer. However, it is important to acknowledge the unpredictability of elections – if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the results are never a forgone conclusion; it is more than worth keeping an open mind to the exciting possibility of the next governor of Kansas or Vermont being a young person. Regardless of the outcome, these strides towards a more empowered generation may in time prove to be invaluable, and they show just how essential it is that we acknowledge and value young voices.

By Alice Kenny