Bristol teen speaks up for a generation in his run for governor

BRISTOL — In his run for governor of Vermont, candidate Ethan Sonneborn of Bristol is organized, and he’s serious.
He’s also just 13 years old.
“Yes I am running to win,” said Sonneborn, an eighth-grader at Mount Abraham Union High School. “We need to really show that young people inherit this planet and this country. And we need to advocate for it now, so that we can make sure that the world and country we get is not irreparably damaged.
“I realize that sounds pessimistic, but frankly I have real concerns that that could be true.”
Sonneborn said when he meets potential voters, many tell him they hope he can inspire other young people to engage in the process.
“That’s what I want to do. I want to get young people active in politics,” he said. “We need to fight for (the country) now so that it’s in at least a decent shape when we get it.”
The drive to enter politics is “not my parents,” said Sonneborn. He said his mom, Jenna Sonneborn, runs the Junebug resale shop and nonprofit in Middlebury and his dad, Dan Sonneborn, is an IT consultant. The younger Sonneborn said he first became interested in public service as a five-year-old when he read about Robert F. Kennedy in an encyclopedia of American history he found at a garage sale.
“I became obsessed with RFK and decided I wanted to become a politician,” said Sonneborn, who said he especially admires the late RFK’s ability to build effective populist coalitions.
What prompted his Aug. 17 declaration to run for governor, though, were mid-August events in Charlottesville, Va., when a protester against racism was killed, apparently by a white nationalist sympathizer.
“Really, the thing that drove me to say ‘OK, I have to do this’ was Charlottesville and seeing the President fail to condemn white nationalists,” Sonneborn said.
Sonneborn has a platform. He’s advocating:
•  Universal healthcare
•  Commonsense gun reform
•  Strengthening public education
•  Protecting immigrants and “dreamers” (those who qualify for legal work permits under President Obama’s DACA order)
•  Protecting civil liberties, including those of the LGBTQ community
•  Protecting free and fair elections
•  Combating global warming
He’s got a staff: Campaign Manager Riley Wells, Chief Strategist Cameron Sprigg, Communication Director Miles Burgess and Chief of Staff Alex Yaggy. Many of these fellow eighth-graders were part of a successful fall 2015 campaign against Bristol Elementary School’s silent lunch policy. When Bristol Elementary sixth-graders (led by Sonneborn) protested, school administrators eased the no talking policy.
Sonneborn is actively engaged in the electoral process.
•  He recently spoke at a state meeting of the Democratic Party in Montpelier.
•  He’ll be speaking in November at a Democratic Party meeting in Orange County.
•  He plans to attend a state legislative Democratic fundraiser in December, headlined by Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Keith Ellison.
•  He’s planning fundraising and campaigning events with the Vermont Young Democrats organization.
•  He’s chair of a new High School Democrats of Vermont chapter, as part of the nationwide High School Democrats of America.
•  He’s met a number of Vermont elected officials, including State Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol; Vermont Treasurer Beth Pearce; Attorney General T. J. Donovan; and Vermont Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint. At the Labor Day Bernie Sanders rally in Middlebury he met the president of Vermont’s AFL-CIO chapter and the president of the Porter nurses’ union.
His campaign has already gathered considerable media attention, including such outlets as Newsweek, Fox News, and Scholastic News. CNN and NBC host Megyn Kelly have voiced an interest in interviewing him, said Sonneborn.
Most states require a governor to be at least 30. Vermont and Kansas have no age requirements. Democrat Jack Bergerson, 16, of Wichita, Kan., is running for governor; and Bergerson and Sonneborn have been in touch. Sonneborn said he heard recently that another young Kansan, 16-year-old Republican Tyler Ruzich, has also thrown his hat in the ring.
Before the 2017 legislative session, all that was required of Vermont gubernatorial hopefuls was a Candidate Consent Form together with 500 signatures. As of the recently passed ethics bill, would-be governors must also submit a Financial Disclosure Form and their most recent IRS Form 1040, said Director of Elections and Campaign Finance Will Senning. Senning said that because the law was just passed, the Financial Disclosure Form is still under development. He anticipates it will be completed by January or February. Given Sonneborn’s age, Senning said his assumption would be that Sonneborn would have to file the Financial Disclosure Form but not the 1040 (if Sonneborn’s never filed a 1040, there would be no requirement to submit that document as part of a gubernatorial campaign, Senning reasoned).
Sonneborn said that as he campaigns for governor, he’ll continue to pursue other avenues of engagement. At Mount Abe, he participates in Model United Nations; and he’s applied to be a legislative page in the upcoming legislative session in Montpelier.
Sonneborn said that if he loses his primary in August 2018, he and fellow gubernatorial candidate Bergerson have next steps already in mind.
“We’re interested in starting some kind of political action committee to engage young people in the process and identify young candidates to run for office in our states and anywhere eligible.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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