Sixteen-year-old Jack Bergeson answered his cell phone, one day after he denied late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s assertion that he’s only running for governor so he could hire a campaign manager who would buy him beer.
“That was a very good experience,” Bergeson said of his three-minute appearance on Kimmel’s late-night show. “They overnighted a huge package that came in a black box. We had to hook a tablet device into our modem and recorded it.”
As of Thursday, there were no other national appearances planned. Just work at his parents’ restaurant and planning the future of our state.
“I think there’s a buzz,” Bergeson said of his gubernatorial run. “My phone’s going off every hour or two. I can tell there’s something going on.”
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What’s going on is curiosity, pride, hope and reflection. A piece of Jack Bergeson is what we should all want in our children.
Not because he has the guts at age 16 to run for governor and outline his priorities for improving Kansas – though that’s something to admire.
It’s because at 16, he’s more engaged in politics and government than 95, 98, maybe 99 percent of us. He understands the importance of getting involved and what government can and can’t do.
“I always knew I wanted to run for office and help people,” Bergeson said.
(Short aside: The Legislature, after the 2018 election, should probably take up age and residency requirements for governor. That would keep a 10-year-old from Saskatchewan, with a spunky personality and a keen eye for politics, from winning the governor’s race with a “Mac-n-Cheese Solves All Problems” platform.)
Bergeson’s interest in government and politics started at age 7 or 8.
He lists Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura as politicians he admires because they were outsiders. Bergeson has also read up on Kansas’ only president, Dwight Eisenhower. “Even though he was a Republican, he was a progressive Republican,” he said.
His campaign for the Democratic nomiation will be limited by his time – school starts Wednesday – and money. A donations page on his website isn’t active yet.
The primary is Aug. 7, 2018. He’ll have all next summer to campaign leading up to it, but before that he’ll spend weekends during the school year speaking to high school and college groups, as well as travel to small Kansas towns to meet voters.
Bergeson said he only knows of one candidate forum so far during the school year – a November event in Chase County. Hey, when you’ve sparred with Kimmel, Chase County voters will be a piece of cake.
I asked Bergeson if he had thought about a moment when the enormity of what he is doing would hit him. Maybe under the bright lights of a debate with fellow Democratic candidates? Maybe standing with a microphone in front of 500 college students who are still his elders?
No, Bergeson said. He was nervous in the moments before he went on with Kimmel, but his performance showed the nervousness went away quickly. He’s ready to talk to Kansans about issues. He hopes they’ll forget he can’t vote for himself – he’ll be 17 on Election Day 2018 – and see he’s well-versed on details and has ideas.
As Kimmel told Bergeson, “A few years ago I would’ve said this was impossible, but now it probably isn’t. It might even be probable that you could be the next governor of Kansas.”
We’ll see. First there’s junior year.