At the age of 23, Elizabeth Fricke is one of the youngest elected officials in the state. Fricke has started serving her third year on the city council of Kenton Vale, a city of about 110 people situated in between Covington and Fort Wright. Legislation in the Kentucky General Assembly might encourage even younger politicians by dropping the minimum age to run for city offices to 18. Kentucky law sets the minimum age to run for mayor at 25 and for a city legislative body at 21.
State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Fort Wright, who in the early 1990s won election to Villa Hills City Council when he was 22, drafted the bill.
“I’m of the opinion if you are old enough to sign up for the armed forces, you ought to be able to run for office,” Koenig said. “I’ve encountered resistance from some legislators. Some argue they need more life experience, to which I say, I trust the voters are smart enough to decide whether someone has enough experience.”
Fricke said she would like to see other young people get involved in their towns. She grew up with a family involved in local politics – her father is on city council – and she decided to run in 2008.
Since then, she’s split her time as a public official and as a graduate student studying public administration. She also serves on regional boards, like the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission’s governing council.
Fricke said other young adults shouldn’t be afraid to run for public office.
“I say go for it,” Fricke said. “It is a positive experience. Even if you don’t have a successful campaign, in a short amount of time, you will gain a lot more knowledge.”
Few young people hold public office in Kentucky, according to a 2010 survey by the Kentucky League of Cities. Only 3.5 percent of elected officials in Kentucky cities are under the age of 30 and 8.5 percent below the age of 40, according to the survey. Most people elected in 2010 in Kentucky on the city level, 74 percent, are above the age of 50.
KLC opposes lowering the minimum age for the elected offices in cities, said J.D. Chaney, director of governmental affairs for KLC.
“Our board of directors considered it and they voted to oppose the legislation,” Chaney said. “In their discussion, they thought that, especially for the mayor’s position acting effectively as the chief executive officer of a city, that was too young and too inexperienced to successfully manage the city. They feel especially that the mayor’s position acting as a CEO for the city, managing personnel employees and day-to-day operations, needed some experience. They felt it was too young.”
Few states set an age limit for elected offices in cities, said Jeffrey Nadel, vice president of the National Youth Rights Association, an organization that has fought to lower the voting age to 16. The Kentucky House Republican Caucus’ research for Koenig’s bill claims 44 states allow 18-year-olds to run for city office.
“I would definitely say Kentucky is unusual in that regard,” Nadel said. “As sort of an observer looking at this from a common sense perspective, I think it is absurd to bar taxpaying adults capable of serving in the military from holding office. If you don’t think they’re qualified, don’t vote for them.”
Ohio law sets the minimum age for city offices at 18. Indiana doesn’t have a statewide minimum age for city offices.
If politicians want young people involved in the electoral process, young people will need the ability to run for office, said Luke Hall, 19, a freshman at Miami University studying political science. After graduating from Lakota East High School in the spring of 2010, Hall last fall ran for the school board in the Lakota school district.