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No laughing matter: GOP teens garner 3,700 votes in tight KS gubernatorial primary

Posted at 11:39 PM, Aug 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-09 00:39:00-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Joseph Tutera Jr. and Tyler Ruzich, both 17-years-old, were not old enough to vote in this year’s Kansas gubernatorial primary.

The two are both working summer jobs, have their sights set on college and go to high school in the metro.

The two may have also played a role in changing the course of Kansas.

Tutera and Ruzich both ran in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary after declaring their candidacies last year.

Both wanted to bring a voice for younger voters to the race and make a difference in the state.

“When school was still going on, I had to manage a work schedule and school schedules,” explained Ruzich, a student at Shawnee Mission North High School. “With the campaign it was a lot.”

While Tutera told 41 Action News he did not travel to many parts of the state during his campaign, his involvement in the race still came with a price.

“I spent around $2,200 of my own money,” he explained. “That’s a lot of money for me. For someone that makes $12 an hour, that’s an entire summer.”

On Tuesday night, both teenagers watched with friends as results came in.

Hundreds of votes for the two soon became over a thousand.

“Every couple of minutes, we’d see four or five votes roll in for me. It was crazy. I was getting way more votes than I expected to get,” explained Tutera, a student at Rockhurst High School. “It was weird because I only have 450 followers on Twitter. I was expecting that to be my cap.”

By the end of the night, the teenagers made a mark.

Ruzich gathered 2,217 votes in the GOP primary while Tutera collected 1,541 votes.

The number of votes for the two were highlighted even more with the close race between Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Governor Jef Colyer.

By Wednesday night, the two politicians were separated by only 191 votes to determine the Republican nominee for governor.

Tutera and Ruzich both know the votes they received could have made a big difference for Colyer and Kobach.

“The GOP, my own party, didn’t include us in the debates. They didn’t mention us. They didn’t want anything to do with us,” Tutera explained. “Nobody took us seriously until last night when they saw the impact we did have.”

With a recount possibly ahead for Colyer and Kobach, Ruzich hoped the support for the teenagers sent a special message.

“We shouldn’t have to run for governor to have our voice heard,” he explained. “Today’s politicians and those in charge are not doing enough to reach out to young people so we said we have to stand up for ourselves.” 

While both said they received criticism from others for running at such a young age, the two said they wanted to speak up for younger voters across the state.

“They should think about this next time and go, ‘Hey, maybe we need to listen to the young people and bring them on,’” Tutera explained. “The 1,500 and 2,200 votes that we had could’ve swung the election if they hadn’t had gone to us.”

The presence of teenagers in the 2018 primary may never happen again in Kansas.

This year, Governor Colyer signed legislation passed by state leaders that established age requirements for candidates of statewide offices.

Starting in 2019, gubernatorial candidates must be at least 25 years old.

Moving forward, Ruzich said the experience of running for governor would be something he never forgets.

“You can call us the spoiler or whatever it may be,” he explained. “We deserved to be in this race just as anybody else did.”