There they were, six Kansas teenagers running for governor. Some of them weren’t even old enough to vote.
It was all due to a fluke in the state constitution that placed no age restrictions on candidates — or really any requirements at all.
“You could live in Spain. It wouldn’t matter,” one of the young candidates once said.
They were a sensation, all right. All the major national media outlets weighed in with you-won’t-believe-this stories. The BBC. The New York Times. The Washington Post. National Public Radio.
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It was all so, well, cute. Kids in khakis and sports coats and their red-striped power ties sounding a whole lot like their adult rivals.
“I mean governor? Come on, right?” CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds asked in an interview.
“Why not?” shot back Tyler Ruzich, a Shawnee Mission North High School student.
Well, here’s why not, Tyler. You and your fellow Republican high-schooler, Joseph Tutera Jr., might have had a profound impact on the Aug. 7 GOP primary. Ruzich picked up 2,276 votes; Tutera received 1,559. The numbers, accounting for about 1 percent each of the total vote, left them in sixth and seventh place in the seven-candidate field.
They were nowhere near top finisher Kris Kobach, who tallied 128,838 votes.
As we all know, Kobach narrowly topped second-place finisher, Gov. Jeff Colyer, by 350 votes in one of the closest races in state history.
So, it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that Ruzich and Tutera just might have swung the race from Colyer to Kobach. To take Ruzich seriously for just a moment, he described himself as a moderate, and Colyer was more moderate than Kobach. So there you go.
If that’s the case, their happy-go-lucky campaigns might wind up altering state history, particularly if the controversial Kobach wins in November. All this puts the teens’ crash course in American civics in a different light.
Ruzich, though, is having none of it. “I don’t think I threw the election,” he said during a 15-minute break from his job as a Hy-Vee cashier. “If people are upset about the election results and they didn’t vote, it’s all their fault.”
He insisted that he could have supported a more centrist candidate who advocated for bipartisanship and young people. Never mind that a candidate like that did exist. His name was Jim Barnett, and The Star editorial board endorsed him.
Ruzich said he had a right to run, and he most certainly did, thanks to that ridiculous state constitution. Let’s stipulate that these young men were pretty impressive. Goodness knows, I couldn’t have strung sentences together at that age like these guys did in their countless TV interviews.
But there’s a lesson here: Running for governor is serious business. And these kids — and that’s exactly what they are — had no business doing it. Running for office isn’t something you do on a lark because, as we’ve just seen, campaigns can have serious consequences.
Yes, all those legions of adults who didn’t vote deserve kicks in the backside. As Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft says so eloquently, those who didn’t vote deprive the rest of us of their wisdom.
But the teens didn’t help matters. It was all so silly, wasn’t it?
“I’m in it to win it,” Ruzich once told his high school newspaper.
No, you weren’t, Tyler.