WJ senior runs for governor of Kansas


Gabrielle Zwi, a senior at Walter Johnson High School, is only 17 years old and has never lived in Kansas. But that’s not stopping her from running in the Midwestern state’s special gubernatorial election this November.

Late last year, some Kansas teenagers realized that the state’s legislation technically didn’t require that candidates for governor be over the age of 18-years-old, or even that they live in the state. Several of them took advantage of that loophole and entered the race, joined by other teenagers across the United States.

Zwi read about the situation in news articles and was struck by the discrepancy in representation in the teenage candidates running.

“I was just noticing, in article after article, they were all boys,” Zwi said. “I thought, I at least want one girl’s name on there.”

She decided to join the other candidates and officially entered the race this year.

Zwi is running as an independent, which means that instead of competing in the primaries for a spot on the general election ballot, she needs to either get 5000 signatures from Kansas voters throughout the whole state or get signatures from 4% of voters in any one district in Kansas before the end of June to get to the general election.

“Personally for me, my goal is to get onto the general election ballot,” Zwi said. “At this time, I don’t think I would be prepared to be governor of Kansas, although it would pay for my college tuition so that would be nice. I’m just trying to get onto the general election ballot just to see how far I can go.”

Aside from her desire to strengthen the gender representation among the candidates, Zwi is taking this as an opportunity to learn more about the political process. She is interested in potentially pursuing a career in social action and politics, so the experience of running for office will be useful to prepare for any future actual candidacies.

“Whenever someone asks what’s [my] dream job, I’ve always said singer/songwriter/senator,” Zwi said. “I’m very interested in organizing people, trying to put things together that will be the best for people and making changes, but also I’m very inclined to artistically representing those changes.”

Zwi wants this unusual situation to show how much of an impact teenagers can have on politics. Not only are kids getting involved in state politics through this election, but their involvement is causing Kansas legislators to review the candidacy laws in place – not just in regards to age and residency, but also regarding the other qualifications for prospective candidates.

“It really is easier than you think to get involved in the political process when you’re a teenager, or when you’re of any age. You just have to look for the right places and look for the right people to be talking to. As it shows in the fact that us doing this is potentially changing the legislation in Kansas – even if you can’t vote yet, you really can make a difference in legislation,” Zwi said.

The primary and petition period ends in June, and the general election will take place on November 6.