A lesson in civics and spoilers: JoCo’s young gubernatorial candidates reflect on primary race

SM North senior Tyler Ruzich led the teens in the GOP race in total votes. Photo credit Tyler Ruzich.

Two Johnson County teens who sought the Republican nomination for Kansas governor said they did what they set out to do — disrupt an already tightly contested gubernatorial race and shake the status quo.

Tyler Ruzich and Joseph Tutera Jr. ran for Kansas governor because there was technically no age limits for candidates — which mean they were seeking a seat for which they couldn’t even vote yet.

Ruzich, a senior at Shawnee Mission North High School who turns 18 next month, took home 2,276 votes statewide. Tutera, a junior at Rockhurst High School who was the youngest to run at age 16 (he’s now 17), took home 1,159. That’s a total of 3,435 — about ten times the 350 vote margin that separated nominee Kris Kobach from Jeff Colyer.

Joseph Tutera, Jr., is now a junior at Rockhurst High School.

Both Ruzich and Tutera said they’re glad they ran for office and think their campaigns impacted the final outcome of the August primary.

“I think that it brought a lot of attention towards the lack of young people and drew more attention towards the need for including younger people in the political process,” Ruzich said.

Tutera also said he thinks his campaign made an impact on the primary outcome.

“I had enough votes to where if they were passed in somebody else’s name, it would have swung the election,” Tutera said. “That being said, would those people have shown up to vote if they hadn’t have voted for me? It’s definitely possible, but you just can’t make any definitive answer without going back in time.”

Both young candidates said they learned lots from their experiences, especially how campaign finance and politics work.

Ruzich’s biggest takeaway was the impression that both the Republican and Democratic parties are excluding moderates from the political process.

“There’s really a reluctance to include moderates like myself in the conversation,” Ruzich. “I really did learn a lot about, unfortunately, how poorly moderates are treated in the political process and, of course, young people as well.”

Tutera said running for governor was the greatest experience of his life.

“I met people that I’d normally never meet, I went to places that I’d never traveled to, I saw parts of Kansas that in a normal everyday life, I would have no reason to go to. That in itself is a good enough reason to want to run.”

Running also reassured Tutera’s interest in politics and journalism, he said, adding that his biggest takeaway was how friendly the media was toward his campaign.

“This is a very anti-Republican thing to say,” Tutera said. “It wasn’t the ‘gotcha’ journalism that you’re used to seeing on national TV or Twitter every day.”

Ruzich sees other young people making change from a societal and cultural standpoint through activism, protesting and daily life. Change from a policy standpoint, however, is a different story.

“Yes, young people are impacting our society, our system and our culture, but young people really aren’t, in my view, having the biggest effect on policies that they could be having,” Ruzich said. “As a result, I believe that my run for governor was a way to sort of get in and infiltrate the system.”

“I wouldn’t call myself a spoiler; I would place the blame on Jeff Colyer and the people who ran his campaign and what I believe was a poorly planned and very passive campaign,” Ruzich said. “Regardless of what people think, I told you I was going to make an impact, and I’m glad that thousands of people felt that it was necessary to make that choice to vote for a teen and put them in charge of this state.”