- Associated Press - Thursday, October 19, 2017

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Four teenagers who are running to be governor of Kansas spoke to their peers Thursday during a forum that revealed some differences on issues but an agreement that the state’s voters should take their candidacies seriously.

The candidates, all under 18, answered questions and discussed their policy positions before more than 200 students at Lawrence Free State High School. They are able to run for the state’s highest office because Kansas doesn’t have any age restrictions for gubernatorial candidates.

“I think shaking up the establishment will benefit everyone,” said Jack Bergeson, a 16-year-old junior from Wichita who was the first teenager to announce his candidacy. “They’re just out to serve themselves. I’m not getting into the so-called game of politics for personal gain.”

Shortly after Bergerson became a candidate in August, he was followed by three 17-year-old Republicans: Tyler Ruzich and Dominic Scavuzzo from Johnson County, and Ethan Randleas from Wichita.

“It’s pretty clear that our politicians have neglected us,” said Ruzich. “We’ve been used by people such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and other mainstream political candidates.”

The wide-ranging forum addressed such issues including education, gun control, taxes, highways, gay rights and the possibility of legalizing marijuana.

All the candidates criticized current Gov. Sam Brownback’s leadership. And they essentially agreed that marijuana should be decriminalized.

“I think we all share the common belief, especially on drug policy, that it’s time to change our dialogue on medical marijuana and recreational marijuana,” Ruzich said.

Bergeson said if he were elected, he would work on the first day to begin releasing “every single nonviolent drug offender in Kansas.”

On other issues, Scavuzzo said he is opposed to high taxes but wants the state to better distribute aid to school districts. A student at a Catholic high school in Kansas City, he said he is staunchly anti-abortion.

Randleas, who calls himself a Republican with libertarian beliefs, said he strongly supports gun ownership and drew some boos when supported a controversial state law that allows people to carry concealed firearms on public university campuses.

Ella Keathley, a 16-year-old junior at Free State who organized the forum, said the young candidates would help students relate to political issues.

“In past political events, I was like ‘I can’t say anything about this, there’s nothing I can do.’ So I felt it was important to teenagers to see other teenagers doing this and not being told by some 30-year-old male that this is our future when obviously it can be taken into our own hands,” Keathley said.

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