Back in my day … 11 years ago, when I was 16 years old and living in a small town, I didn’t worry about much other than playing my Xbox and hanging out with my friends. That’s a significant contrast to the six teenagers, age 16 and 17, who have announced their candidacies for Kansas governor.
That sort of political activism never crossed my mind at their age and I commend their spirit and desire to serve the citizens of Kansas through the political process.
Not long after the first of these announcements, it came to my attention that requirements to run for and serve as governor — or any other head of state in Kansas — were nonexistent. This caused me to reflect upon the sacred duty of public service and my own journey that led me to the Kansas Legislature.
It wasn’t until the ripe old age of 20 that my interest in politics was stoked by conservative talk radio. More than a passive listener, I did my own research and tested what was being communicated. The 2012 presidential election sparked many passionate discussions with whoever would engage in conversation. When President Barack Obama won his second term in office, I knew that I could no longer just listen. I needed to get involved to try and make a difference.
During my final year of college I made the decision to run for the Kansas House of Representatives. I was 23 years old when I won my first election and became the youngest serving member in the Kansas legislature.
In order to run for the legislature Kansas state law requires that you be at least 18 years old. No such requirement exists for the heads of state positions like governor. I’ve introduced a bill that states you must be a “qualified elector” in order to hold these offices.
This means you should be 18 years old, a legal resident of the state of Kansas, and cannot be a convicted criminal currently serving time. It seems reasonable and responsible that if you can run for or serve as governor, you should be able to vote for yourself or someone else.
And consider this: If a 16-year-old were elected governor, he or she would assume the responsibility as commander in chief of the Kansas National Guard. Members of the National Guard must be 18 years old. Without the requirements of HB 2539, inmates serving time in Lansing, Hutchinson, El Dorado or any other correctional institution could run for office, but not vote for themselves or anyone else.
Turning 18 is a big deal. In the eyes of the government many changes happen at age 18:
▪ Voting privileges begin.
▪ You can be criminally prosecuted as an adult.
▪ You can be selected for the draft.
▪ You can join the military.
▪ The purchase and use of tobacco products becomes legal.
Not long ago I reached out to Ethan Randleas, one of the teens running for governor. I wanted to get him involved in the process of creating this legislation and encourage him to run for the Legislature if his prospects for Governor didn’t work out.
Ethan told me: “I believe that the age should be set at 18, as this is the age that individuals can legally sign contracts, as well as the requirement of having fouryears of residency.” I agreed with him on these two points and incorporated them into HB2539. I encourage the public to go read the bill.
Let me be clear. This legislation does not change the rules of the current election or campaigns now underway. If passed it will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2019.
This means the teenage candidates for governor can still run — and be elected — this year. After the deadline, you must be 18 years old for future elections to run for governor and other statewide offices.
Let me again commend and encourage everyone who engages in the political process and the pursuit of public service. This common sense legislation can help elevate the rules of engagement and reinforce the grave responsibility of holding public office.
Rep. Blake Carpenter represents District 81 in the Kansas House.