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Unexpected candidate filings in Kansas spark debate over qualifications for governor

by Tim Anderson ~ March 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The race for governor in Kansas got off to an unusual start this election cycle — the announced candidacies of six teenagers, the editor of an alternative weekly newspaper in Oregon, and even a dog. The canine’s run was stopped, but at least as of early this year, nothing in the state’s Constitution or statutes prevented minors and out-of-state residents from seeking the governorship.
“If this isn’t changed, people in prison could run,” adds Kansas Rep. Blake Carpenter, noting the lack of a requirement that a gubernatorial candidate be a “qualified elector.”
Carpenter’s HB 2539, which as of late February had passed the House by a wide margin and was awaiting action in the Senate, adds the “qualifying elector” requirement for anyone running for statewide office. (His bill wouldn’t take effect until January 2019, thus not impacting the campaigns of teens or out-of-state residents running this year.)
Under the original proposal, gubernatorial candidates also had to live in Kansas for the last four years. Representatives struck this language from the final House bill, though, while adding a new requirement for attorney general candidates: that they be licensed to practice law in the state. In most U.S. states, the attorney general must be a licensed attorney, though this requirement isn’t as common in the 11-state Midwest (see map).
Kansas stands out more for its lack of criteria on who can be governor. As of 2016, it was one of only three U.S. states without a residency requirement (along with Massachusetts and Virginia) and one of three that didn’t set a minimum age (Tennessee and Arkansas are the others).
Last year, as he began working on new statutory language, Carpenter reached out to one of the teenage gubernatorial candidates for input. The two had at least one thing in common: Both got the itch to run for office at an early age. Three years ago, Carpenter was the state’s youngest legislator, at age 23.
Among the questions for Carpenter when crafting HB 2539 was where to set the minimum age for governor. It’s as high as 30 in some Midwestern states, but Carpenter chose 18. “At that age, you are an adult in the eyes of the government,” he says. “You can be charged as an adult, you can vote, you can serve in the military, you can enter into contracts.”