LAWRENCE — Four Kansas high school students campaigning for governor spoke directly to peers Thursday in an issue-saturated forum of possible instructional value to some of the experienced adult politicians campaigning to be elected the state’s chief executive.
Republicans Tyler Ruzich and Dominic Scavuzzo and Ethan Randleas and Democrat Jack Bergeson outlined for more than 200 students at Free State High School their views on education, gun control, taxes, state budgets, energy, health care, highways, crime, gay rights, water, minimum wage, abortion, gubernatorial pardons, police shootings, campaign finance and illegal drugs.
They made no effort in stump speeches or while answering questions to mimic candidates who employ expensive consults to help them avoid talking about controversial issues potentially alienating to voters.
The high school forum exposed differences among the four candidates on abortion and gun control, but the foursome coalesced around a belief Kansas voters should resist the instinct to dismiss their unconventional campaigns. In Kansas, there is no age requirements to run in statewide elections.
“I think shaking up the establishment will benefit everyone,” said Bergeson, a 16-year-old junior at The Independent School in Wichita. “They’re just out to serve themselves. I’m not getting into the so-called game of politics for personal gain.”
Other candidates in the race include Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, House Minority Leader Jim Ward and an assortment of businessmen and former state and local elected officials.
“It’s pretty clear that our politicians have neglected us,” said Ruzich, a Prairie Village student eager about being a first-time voter. “We’ve been used by people such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and other mainstream political candidates.”
Scavuzzo, a Leawood resident who attends a Rockhurst High School in Missouri, said disclosure of his interest in running for governor didn’t go over well with his mother.
“My mom said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I eventually talked her down from the ledge,” he said.
The youthful candidates shared irritation at leadership exhibited by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican on the verge of resigning to take a job in the administration of President Trump.
To delight of many students at Free State, the four candidates endorsed decriminalization of marijuana. In one gulp, nearly one-fifth of Kansas’ 19 declared candidates for governor expressed a preference for legalization of medicinal or recreational marijuana.
Bergeson went one step further, declaring that his first day as governor would be dedicated to releasing “every single nonviolent drug offender in Kansas.”
Not to be outdone, Randleas added, “I believe all nonviolent criminals should be pardoned.”
Randleas, a Wichita student who defines himself as a Republican with Libertarian beliefs, said he firmly held to the idea gun ownership was a constitutional right that ought not be abridged due to fear of criminals abusing weapons.
To smattering of boos, he said state lawmakers were right to allow students to carry concealed firearms in public university buildings.
“If you can have it on the street,” he said, “why can’t we have it on campus?”
Ruzich and Scavuzzo rejected the view of many state legislators that inviting more people to carry hidden weapons would improve security in university classrooms. Bergeson said he endorsed Kansas’ conceal-carry law, but advocated for a ban on semi-automatic and automatic weapons.
Other differences among the candidates: Bergeson wants to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour; Ruzich plans to block prosecution of anyone seeking emergency medical care for overdosing on an illegal drug; Randleas wants to repeal the state’s personal and corporate income taxes; and Scavuzzo was the only high school candidate unequivocally pro-life on abortion.