TOPEKA — Sixteen-year-old Jack Bergeson said Monday he hopes his bid for the Democratic nomination for Kansas governor will inspire other young people to get involved in politics and vote, even though the Wichita high school student will not be old enough to vote for himself next summer.
Bergeson, a rising junior at the Independent School in Wichita, said he thought Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Democratic presidential primary campaign successfully engaged young people, and he hoped his gubernatorial bid would get his classmates and high school students across the country interested in politics and policy.
“If they see someone else who is their same age running — running on ideas that are becoming popular nowadays — it will kind of shed the stigma away and may attract a lot more people to caring about the future of our state and our country,” Bergeson said.
Bergeson said he always had been interested in politics because he wants to help people. He said his classmate, Alexander Cline, 17, will be his running mate and would serve as lieutenant governor if the two won.
“You can change the world based on what the people want,” Bergeson said.
Bergeson said his decision to run came shortly after he realized Kansas did not have an age requirement for gubernatorial candidates.
In terms of qualification requirements to run for governor, Kansas director of elections Bryan Caskey said there is “no age, no residency, no citizenship, no anything.”
“There are zero qualifications under Kansas law,” Caskey said.
A Missouri resident also could run for the state’s high office, he said.
Bergeson said, however, he thought being a young candidate would come with a set of challenges. He said he thought it would be difficult for him to campaign once the school year starts, and he said he worried he would not be taken seriously. His teachers and classmates, however, have been enthusiastic, he said, and some of his teachers have helped him go over campaign ideas.
“Everyone seems to be very ecstatic and very excited about it,” he said.
Bergeson laid out a lofty set of mostly progressive campaign goals, including overhauling the state’s health care system, legalizing medical marijuana, considering legalization of recreational marijuana and raising the minimum wage. He said he thought the next governor also would have to raise taxes again to help deal with the state’s persistent budget shortfalls. He advocated raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 each year. He said he hoped he would be able to reduce taxes somewhat on those who earn less than $60,000.
On issues related to guns, Bergeson said his opinions are more “right wing.” He said he supported open carry of guns and allowing people to carry on college campuses.
Another tenant of his campaign, he said, would be an anti-corruption tone. He said his campaign would not accept donations for more than $500 each and he would not accept money from corporations with values that did not abide by his values.
Bergeson said he likely would pursue a GED if he won, since he still would have a semester of high school left.