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Meet the 13-Year-Old Boy Who Could Be the Next Governor of Vermont

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Ethan Sonneborn (left) with his campaign staffers Riley and Alex
Ethan Sonneborn (left) with his campaign staffers Riley and Alex

If the oldest man ever elected president can “tweet like a kindergartner,” why not flip the script and see if a youngster can be elected to office and govern wisely?

That’s part of the logic, anyway, behind the unlikely candidacy of Ethan Sonneborn, a 13-year-old running for governor of Vermont, one of just two states with no minimum age requirement for the office.

A candidate’s age is no gauge of their effectiveness, Sonneborn tells PEOPLE, saying that despite Donald Trump being the oldest person elected to the U.S. Presidency, “He tweets like a kindergartener.”

Sonneborn says he’s been dismayed not only by what he sees as Trump’s troubling decisions and juvenile moments but also by the president’s response after a counterprotester was killed during the August white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — which is what cemented Sonneborn’s decision to seek office. “It was the real ‘I have to do this’ moment,” he says. “I saw a woman die and I saw the president of the United States refuse to unequivocally condemn the people who killed her.”

Courtesy of Dan and Jenna Sonneborn
Ethan Sonneborn with younger sister Julia

The eighth grader’s candidacy is also about overcoming age discrimination, which he sees as a barrier to equality, and he says his quest for the top state spot is no joke. “I think the best way to engage young people in the process is to win,” he says.

Sonneborn, who lives in Bristol, Vermont, with his parents and younger sister, Julia, 11, is seeking the Democratic nomination. If he wins the primary, he would face off against first-term Republican Gov. Phil Scott, 59. The incumbent governor is welcoming the competition.

“This young Vermonter clearly has an interest in service and anyone putting ideas forward with the goal of making Vermont a better place is appreciated here,” Scott’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Kelley, tells PEOPLE. “As we work to keep and attract more young professionals and job creators, we appreciate every young person who is engaged and invested in our state.”

Courtesy of Dan and Jenna Sonneborn
From right to left: Ethan Sonneborn with his grandmother Elizabeth Sonneborn and father, Dan Sonneborn

Sonneborn’s positions include support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, reproductive and LGBTQ rights, and improving access to health care.

When he’s not campaigning on those and other issues, Sonneborn is busy with his studies, participating in school activities and making time to go fishing. He’s considering joining the junior high basketball team.

Meanwhile, four other teenagers are throwing their hats into the 2018 governor’s race in Kansas, the other state without an age requirement.

Courtesy of Tyler Ruzich
Tyler Ruzich

Tyler Ruzich, who just turned 17, says his youth can be a benefit, particularly when it comes to articulating the concerns of young voters. “If our politicians aren’t willing to stand up and fight to address the concerns and issues of millennials and Generation Z then we ought to take initiative and fight for those issues ourselves,” he tells PEOPLE.

The young Republican is prepared to handle a skeptical electorate, perhaps starting with his very own parents, who last year both voted for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

But the high school junior from Prairie Village, Kansas, says not only is his family behind his candidacy, so are fellow Kansans. “My community is well aware and supportive of my run,” Ruzich says.

RELATED VIDEO: Barack Obama to Young Leaders: It’s Time to ‘Take Up the Baton’

Other teenage candidates for Kansas governor are:

  • Democrat Jack Bergeson, a 16-year-old high school junior from Wichita, who supports increasing the minimum wage, universal health care, legalizing marijuana, open-carry gun laws and increasing teacher pay.
  • Republican Ethan Randleas, 17, of Wichita, who told The Hutchinson News he wants to defend liberty and “citizens’ natural rights from an intrusive federal and state government.”
  • Republican Dominic Scavuzzo, 17, of Leawood, who says running is a good opportunity to gain experience.