With the eyes of the nation focused on this years landmark presidential race, prospective voters might find it easy to forget there will be other choices to be made on Election Day. For one Kansas State University student, however, Nov. 4, will be nervewracking for much more personal reasons.
Andrew Rickel, sophomore in music education, is the Democratic candidate in Kansas 12th Senate District and is the youngest person running for state office in the general election. If elected, he will become the youngest state senator to ever take office, but days before the election, Rickel was more concerned about practicalities than the prospect of making history.
The last time we did a poll, out of five people, two would vote for me and three would vote for him, he said. Its nowhere near as scientific as what they do for president, but I do know I have a chance.
Rickels path to the ballot started in junior high school when he was a page for his local representative. In high school, he became involved in Youth Optimist Model Legislature, a program sponsored by the Optimist Club that Rickel described as Boys and Girls State on steroids. Like those model government programs, participants in Model Legislature draft mock legislation for the state, but instead of taking place on college campuses, this program utilizes the Statehouse in Topeka, an experience that sparked Rickels future political aspirations.
After high school, I wanted to somehow get into politics, and I always thought, Well, Ill start at the bottom rung on the ladder and work my way up, he said.
In the wake of widespread opposition to the initial Senate candidate for the Democratic Party in the 12th District, Rickels father, who has run for the state House of Representatives before, was approached by party leaders to run for the seat. He declined but suggested his son, who subsequently accepted and began his campaign on June 7. The initial Democratic candidate dropped out before the primary, leaving Rickel more time to focus on challenging the Republican incumbent, Pat Apple.
It is a learning experience. Theres a lot I can plan ahead for because now I know how a campaigns supposed to run, he said. It would have been nice if I could have had a committee to run things for me, which is what most people do. Being at school during the week, even taking just 12 hours, I havent had the time to go door-to-door as much as I would have liked.
Rickel, who said his father has answered questions but allowed him to run his own campaign, said his youth has not proven to be a negative factor.
Ive encountered some prejudice, but not because of how young I am, he said. Ive had elderly ladies who are hard-core Republicans come up to me and tell me, Were voting for you because you represent the future. Thats been a big surprise that I havent really encountered any problems with people saying, Oh, hes too young. I think its because Ive been out there talking to people, doing forums and proving that I can hold my own with an entrenched incumbent.
In the next week, Rickel will continue to make visits to his hometown of Garnett, Kan., going door-to-door and calling voters. If the election brings victory, he will begin a four-year term as a state senator in January, attending school only in the summer and fall.
I tell the people I talk to that Im willing to put my future aside to work for theirs, Rickel said. If they call my name that Tuesday night, [voters] hired me to represent [them], so thats where my priorities are going to be.
If Rickel is unsuccessful, he said he hopes to intern in the Senate to gain experience and then run again in four years, emphasizing that this campaign is not a fluke.
Ill be there next time around, he said. I dont easily give up.