TOPEKA — Democrats and Republicans could end up with a teenager on their gubernatorial primary ballots next summer after a second high school student joined the ever-expanding field of candidates this week.
But only one of the young hopefuls would be old enough to vote for himself in the general election next fall.
Tyler Ruzich, 16, started his campaign for Kansas governor this week, joining Wichita 16-year-old Jack Bergeson. Ruzich, who lives in Prairie Village and debates at Shawnee Mission North High School, said he’ll turn 18 next September — too late to vote for himself in the primary but in time for the November 2018 general election.
“Whether I’m on the ballot or not — that first chance to vote is something I’m really looking forward to,” Ruzich said.
Ruzich said he would run as a moderate Republican, though he was encouraged by his social media friend, Bergeson, who is running as a Democrat and said he admires Vermont’s progressive senator, Bernie Sanders. He echoed Bergeson when he said he wanted to represent young people’s concerns.
“I’m going to be a first-time voter in the 2018 Kansas gubernatorial election, and to me, that’s really important,” Ruzich said.
Ruzich said he did not think young people would connect with other gubernatorial candidates, such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach or Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, whom he said he thought was a figurehead of Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.
As a public school student, Ruzich said education would be an important issue for him in the election. He said he’ll also focus on legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing recreational marijuana and balancing state revenue and expenditures.
“While no one enjoys paying taxes whatsoever, it is kind of what we pay for a civilized society,” he said.
Ruzich said he thought the Democratic party favored “big government” and did not do enough for small business owners, but he said he understood the importance of some Democratic policies, like the Affordable Care Act, though they might not be perfect.
“Regardless of political party, we have to go about things rationally,” Ruzich said.
Ruzich’s Democratic counterpart, Bergeson, launched his campaign last month and said he will focus on overhauling the state’s health-care system, legalizing medical marijuana and raising the minimum wage.
The two face large fields of primary candidates.
Ruzich’s Republican primary opponents would include former Rep. Mark Hutton, governor-in-waiting and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former Sen. Jim Barnett and Wichita businessman Wink Hartman. Former Rep. Ed O’Malley is publicly considering a run for governor.
Bergeson would face former Secretary of Agriculture Joshua Svaty, former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer, House Minority Leader Jim Ward and Olathe physician Arden Andersen.
Ruzich said his debate and DECA partner, Calvin Tran, would be his running mate and serve as lieutenant governor if the two won.