When Tyler Ruzich’s history teacher discovered the Shawnee Mission student was running for governor, he made Ruzich give his campaign pitch to the rest of the class.
“They know what capabilities are, not just as a student but as a person,” Ruzich said Tuesday about the impromptu speech he gave his Advanced Placement U.S. History class at Shawnee Mission North High School earlier that day.
Ruzich, who will turn 17 next week, formed a campaign committee this week and intends to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. He joins a crowded field of candidates that already includes governor-in-waiting Jeff Colyer, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and one other high school student.
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The two became friends several years ago on social media and Bergeson encouraged Ruzich to consider a campaign of his own.
“I thought that was just so cool that someone my age was doing that. ... He really started to tell me, well, why aren’t you throwing your hat in the race?” Ruzich said.
If both win their parties’ nomination, Kansans could choose between two high school students in November next year. Unlike Bergeson, Ruzich noted, he will be old enough to vote in the 2018 general election.
Kansas is one of a handful of states with no age requirement for the governorship. Another state without a requirement, Vermont, has a 13-year-old running for governor.
Kelly Arnold, the state chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said he’s received inquiries from other high school students and more may still join the race.
“I do appreciate that there’s a lot of young people taking part in this process. I think there’s a lot more younger people doing that than when I was in high school,” said Arnold, who has launched his own exploratory bid for secretary of state.
Ruzich, an honor roll student and member of Shawnee Mission North’s debate team, spoke to The Star in between a day of A.P. classes and his shift at a Hy-Vee store, where he works as a cashier.
“I think a lot of people would roll their eyes or raise their eyebrows at it. ... But I’m here to win,” Ruzich said.
He said he aligns himself with the moderate wing of the Kansas Republican Party. He pointed to his own state senator, moderate Republican Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, as an influence and said that he is “very much against the fiscal policy and education policy of our current governor, Sam Brownback.”
But he also expressed admiration for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican known for his libertarian-leaning views, for getting young people excited about politics.
Ruzich, who called himself “a Republican for the next generation,” said his parents are more politically progressive than he is and both supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the 2016 presidential race. He got their permission before launching his bid for the governor’s office.
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Ruzich opposes allowing guns on public college campuses in Kansas, a policy that went into effect in July.
“People are still learning to be adults and still maturing. ... Guns on campus is just not the right policy to allow,” he said.
Asked how he’d be ready to serve as governor when he is still learning to be an adult, Ruzich said that he would not be governing by himself and could rely on experienced advisers and cabinet secretaries for help.
“Experience is very, very important, but at the same time there needs to be a shift in our politics,” he said.
Kansas has a history of electing women to positions of power, but women are noticeably absent from the crowded race for governor. This video includes photos from the Associated Press and music "The Army's March" by MMFFF/CC BY 4.0.