State Advances Bill On Governor Age Limit

By John Celock

Kansas lawmakers have advanced legislation requiring an age limit and residency requirement for governor and other statewide offices after a series of teenagers have filed to run for governor.

The Kansas House of Representatives voted 73-43 Tuesday to give preliminary approval to legislation that would require candidates for statewide office to be a qualified elector – being 18 years old and free of felony convictions – and requiring candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to have lived in the state for four years prior to running. The bill comes as five high school students have announced for governor, one for lieutenant governor and one for secretary of state, along with several residents of Delaware expressing interest in running for Kansas governor.

“We need certain requirements for the people running for these offices,” House Elections Committee Vice Chairman Blake Carpenter (R-Derby), the bill’s sponsor, said.

Kansas is one of two states in the country – along with Vermont – that does not set a minimum age to run for statewide office. A 13-year-old is currently running for Vermont governor.

Carpenter, the second youngest member of the state Legislature, said the bill would set the age of 18 as a requirement for statewide office in order to provide a minimum threshold to make a race for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and insurance commissioner. Several states set the minimum age for governor at 18, but most set higher ages.

In addition, Carpenter said that the state should have minimum residency requirements in place for seeking the governorship. Most states have some sort of minimum requirement for residency prior to seeking governor and other offices.

The bill would not impact the high school students who are running this year, since it would not take effect until January 1 of next year.

The House also voted 71-41 to include an amendment from Carpenter that would require the state attorney general to be a licensed attorney in the state. Carpenter said that he wanted to make it clear that the state’s top attorney be a licensed attorney. Most states have a similar requirement in place for the state attorney general.

Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) questioned Carpenter why he wanted to include the license requirement for the attorney general when the Kansas secretary of state is the state’s chief election law prosecutor and there was no requirement for the secretary of state to be an attorney. Carpenter said that there are lawyers in the secretary of state’s office who can handle the prosecutor function and that the prosecutorial powers are a small part of the secretary of state’s duties. Carmichael and other Democrats had opposed giving the secretary of state’s office prosecutorial powers.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) is an attorney.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) opposed the amendment for the attorney general noting that lawmakers could next place professional licensing and other requirements on other offices, which she said would limit the pool of candidates. Landwehr noted that magistrate judges in the state are not required to be licensed attorneys.

“This is a slope we shouldn’t be going down,” Landwehr said.

Most of the House debate centered on a proposed amendment from House Elections Committee Ranking Minority Member Vic Miller (D-Topeka) that would have prohibited outside employment by the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and insurance commissioner. The amendment, which was defeated 34-82, was centered largely on Kobach’s role as an attorney who has worked on immigration related cases. Democrats have long opposed Kobach’s outside work, which has included advising President Donald Trump on immigration policy and drafting immigration legislation for other states.

“It is understood that based on what the salary is for those positions that it is a fulltime job,” Miller said.

Kobach, a gubernatorial candidate, has defended his outside legal work, noting that he does it outside his office hours, describing it as a hobby.

Miller’s amendment did not include the lieutenant governor, with Miller noting that the job’s roughly $59,000 a year salary has long defined it as a part time job. Several Kansas lieutenant governors have served full time by taking on Cabinet posts with higher pay or working at the lieutenant governor’s lower pay.

Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), a plastic surgeon who took office in January, has indicated that he plans to occasionally practice medicine while governor.

Lawmakers questioned the need for Miller’s amendment, noting that it could prohibit others from seeking statewide office, including those with family farms and other family businesses.

“I think you have an in-home business or work for the family farm and they need you to come for a few days to help with harvest and they want to pay you for that, that is fine,” House Speaker Pro Temp Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) said.

Miller said that there would be no prohibition from helping on a family farm or from owning a family farm or other business. He said the prohibition would be working for another company.

The House also defeated an amendment from Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) to set the minimum age of governor at 30, a common age in many states, and an amendment from Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) to make the implementation debate immediate. Whitmer said that with out of state candidates now seeking the governorship, he wanted to address the issue quicker than the January 1 time frame proposed by Carpenter.

“What this would do is have respect for the office of governor of Kansas,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer’s amendment would allow any teenager who was already paid a filing fee to run to have the fee refunded.

Rep. Tom Cox (R-Shawnee) said that while he supports lawmakers setting long term plans for seeking elective office and running elections, he had concerns about Whitmer’s amendment impacting the plans of candidates who have already indicated that they wanted to seek the governorship.

“I stand opposed to this amendment because anything that will remove someone from the ballot is a dangerous precedent,” Cox said. “Anything that would remove someone from the ballot is one of the most undemocratic things we can do.”

House Elections Committee Chairman Keith Esau (R-Olathe) supported the Whitmer amendment saying that with the recent proposal of a dog running as a candidate for governor, rules were needed in place sooner.

House Democratic Agenda Chairman Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) said that he has seen many young people contributing to the public discourse and he was opposed to placing any age limit on seeking statewide office.

“They are adding to the discussion,” Whipple said. “They are the next generation and they are teaching us where they want our state to go and where our nation can go.”