TOPEKA — More than half a dozen teens' entrance into the Kansas governor's race prompted the House to declare Tuesday anyone running for statewide office should be at least 18 years old and live in Kansas.
Teens began entering the race over the summer after Wichita 17-year-old Jack Bergeson launched his campaign when he realized Kansas sets no requirements for gubernatorial candidates. Several out-of-state candidates have entered the race in recent weeks, and Angus the dog was barred from the contest after his owner attempted to launch a campaign on his behalf.
The deluge of unconventional candidates drove legislators to support some requirements imposed on candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and insurance commissioner. The bill, which would require those candidates be at least 18 and live in Kansas, passed on first-round vote 73-43, but still faces another vote in the House before it moves on to the Senate. Supporters argue the requirements are minimal and appropriate.
Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican, brought the bill after speaking with Ethan Randleas, a Wichita 18-year-old running for governor as a Libertarian. Carpenter was first elected at the age of 23 and encouraged young people to run for local political positions or legislative seats.
"There's other ways to get involved instead of dropping $2,200 to run for the highest executive position in the entire state, and so I understand that they want to have their message heard and I think that there's also other ways that they can have their message heard," Carpenter said.
Kansas Director of Elections Bryan Caskey said Kobach's office supported "minimal requirements" for candidates for executive offices.
"I'm in favor – highly in favor – of young people being engaged in the process," Caskey said. "I think that's a voice that's been lacking, so I welcome the debate if we are talking about issues, but from my perspective, it seems like we're talking about the novelty of teenagers and not talking about actual issues, which the state faces and which need to be addressed."
Opponents argued barring minors from office was not necessary because voters ultimately choose the winner of a given election.
"While I don't intend to vote for [Bergeson], I do not fear his candidacy because I do not fear the collective wisdom – in this case – of the Democratic voters who would be voting this August," said Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat.
Legislators fended off several amendments, including one brought by Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, that would have made the age requirement effective this year, kicking teens and non-residents out of the race.
"Whether or not you support the notion of allowing folks who don't live in Kansas to run for governor in Kansas, I'm a little disturbed," Whitmer said. "I think we should keep that a Kansas election, so all this does is prevent clutter on our ballot, respect for the office of governor of Kansas by insisting that we move this up to affect this election cycle."
Jack Bergeson, 17, of Wichita, is the only teen who has filed to appear on the ballot. Whitmer said his filing fee would be refunded.
Rep. Tom Cox, a Lenexa Republican, called that one of the most "undemocratic" things legislators could do.
The House also rejected an amendment offered by Augusta Republican Rep. Kristey Williams that would have set the minimum age at 30, but it approved an amendment requiring that the state's attorney general be a licensed attorney.