Kansas teenagers say they were fed up with dysfunction and anxious to have a voice in political discourse when they exploited the absence of an age restriction and entered the governor’s race last year.
Three of them eventually paid the steep filing fee to secure their place on the ballot — and in history. No teen had thought to do this before, and the Legislature reacted by passing a law requiring future candidates be at least 25 years old.
Democrat Jack Bergeson, of Wichita, joined Republicans Tyler Ruzich, of Prairie Village, and Joseph Tutera Jr., of Mission Hills, for an episode of Capitol Insider, a podcast by The Topeka Capital-Journal that explores the people and ideas in Kansas politics. The widespread appeal of their unique story, which includes earnest interest in government policy, became evident when they attracted BBC reporter Claire Bolderson and producer Michael Gallagher to the podcast recording.
“When I announced my campaign in September, I’ll admit, I probably should have been doing physics homework,” Ruzich said. “But I was up on my computer. I was going back and forth thinking, ‘Is this really something I can do?’ I didn’t expect the traction it would get.”
They came prepared to talk about gun control, education funding, taxes, marijuana and other topics.
Bergeson said the new plan to phase in $522 million in public school funding is a band-aid over a gaping wound. He promised to pardon every non-violent drug offender, called for raising taxes on the wealthy — “those people who need to pay their fair share to ensure everybody is able to live a good quality of life” — and wants to establish a national database of gun owners.
Like Bergeson, Ruzich called for common sense gun control policies, noting that a fellow church member was a victim of the shooting at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center. He doesn’t support the legalization of marijuana but thinks relaxing the laws for medicinal purposes is a good first step. And while he sees himself as a fiscally responsible Republican, he also believes taxes are “what we pay to live in civilized society.”
Tutera said he doesn’t like to see his money going to a government that isn’t spending it correctly. He loves the idea of applying public school money toward private school vouchers, encouraging competition. And he believes the specifics of “common sense gun control” are problematic. A libertarian philosophy drives his view on marijuana: He won’t use it, but why should the government tell the guy down the street what to do in the privacy of his home?
Each expressed concern with President Donald Trump. Ruzich described himself as “an anti-Trump Republican,” and Bergeson said the president poses a threat to democracy.
Trump’s supporters were disillusioned, Bergeson said, but Trump failed to honor his promises.
“A lot of them voted for Trump despite his racism, despite his comments,” Bergeson said, “because they were like: ‘He’s the only one talking about the issue of trade. He’s the only one talking about keeping my job. He’s the only one talking about these kinds of issues.’ And we need to make sure that politicians listen to these people and find ways to help ensure we can protect the middle class.”
Tutera said Bergeson wasn’t giving the president enough credit.
“I think that his personality is very divisive,” Tutera said. “I don’t like what he says. I don’t believe that the Twitter storms are very productive. But as a conservative, I do think he is the most conservative president since Ronald Reagan. I agree with just about everything he put forth policy wise, other than tariffs, and I think that although the populism is a problem, the conservatism is definitely something we need to take into account.”