Three teenage candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives


Sam Cao worked out a plan with his manager and superintendent. They needed to figure out how Cao could potentially balance constituent work in the Ohio House of Representatives with classroom work at Mason High School.

At the University of Miami, Sam Lawrence pondered a similar plan for his upcoming sophomore year. Rhyan Goodman from Ohio University is probably doing the same for his freshman year.

All three Democrats would be young enough for elected office. Cao is 17 but turns 18 before election day, allowing him to run; Laurent is 19 years old; Goodman was 19 when he announced his race in February.

If elected, they could shape state policy on everything from Ohio’s $74 billion two-year budget, civil and criminal justice, women’s rights, gun policy and countless others. All three are running in districts where Republicans have recently won by large margins, leaving them with difficult paths to office.

They can serve in wars and vote. They cannot legally buy a drink. And they don’t think their age should prevent them from holding public office.

“The only thing I would like to point out is that there is no experience; it’s a different experience,” Lawrence said.

“I would like to ask each of our legislators if they were in school while all these terrible school shootings are happening. They weren’t in school when we had these powerful assault weapons that could mow down dozens of children at a time. These people don’t have these life experiences.

Some current incumbents began their terms a few years earlier. Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, started in the House in 2018 at age 23. Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, was first elected in 2018 at age 24. Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., was elected in 2020 at age 25. Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, won in 2018 at age 26.

Several (older) Democrats asked about young insurgents brushed off concerns about the candidates’ lack of life or work experience. They also dismissed the trend as any sign of a party unable to attract more established candidates. Instead, they characterized it as a reflection of members of a new generation who are appalled by increasingly extreme legislation coming from the Statehouse and inspired enough to seek change on their own.

“They’re going to be limited based on their life experiences, but at the same time, there’s something romantic about it,” said Dennis Willard, a Democratic political consultant.

“In a sane world, that might seem crazy. But we don’t live in a sane world with the Ohio legislature. I know who I would vote for.

There is also a historical precedent. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, the oldest member of Ohio’s struggling Democratic Party, won his first State House race at age 21 in 1974. In 2000, 18-year-old Derrick Seaver won a seat as a Democrat (he changed parties a few years later).

In an interview, Seaver, now 40 and director of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, expressed ambivalence about teenagers running for office. Youth has its advantages – young people can be listeners and learners who bring new perspectives to older and older general assemblies. Plus, the media attention they attract can make the difference in tough races.

However, they are less well placed to understand the nuances or interdependence of public policies, he said. Plus, if they lose an election, they don’t have a college degree or developed work experience to fall back on.

“I’ll be saying this since then, and I don’t want it to sound daunting, but I definitely think maybe I should have waited until I was older,” he said.

Sam Cao

Ohio’s new 56e House District contains parts of Warren County, including the towns of Lebanon and Mason. More than 62% of his voters are Republicans, according to Dave’s Redistricting App.

The incumbent, Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, was among the first Republicans to openly embrace conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 and later joined in a chimerical and failed gamble to impeach Gov. Mike DeWine. Constitutional term limits prevent him from seeking re-election.

Cao became frustrated when COVID-19 became so widespread in the county that his high school closed when it ran out of healthy substitute teachers. He tried to contact Zeltwanger, to no avail. Then he tried to contact the Democratic candidate for the seat, only to learn that such a person does not exist. He credits his AP government professor for encouraging him to try his luck.

To prepare, he turns to history. On the one hand, there are his role models – Brown, the US senator; Robert Kennedy, the liberal icon and former United States Attorney General; and William Proxmire, another U.S. senator who replaced demagogic Senator Joe McCarthy and called his predecessor a “disgrace to Wisconsin, to the Senate, and to America.”

Cao also sought advice from the last four Democrats who unsuccessfully tried to win the seat.

“Do you know what you’re getting into, kid? he said, relaying their advice.

“We call it the arena for a reason. You are a minnow. And the sharks come in. Those lawmakers at the Statehouse, they don’t play games with you. They could eat you.

His path to the general election ballot is not guaranteed – he faces off against Joy Bennett, a freelance writer, in the looming August 2 primary.

In an interview, he reduced his political goals to three elements. On the one hand, he wants to vote against abortion restrictions and expanded gun rights, which are likely to happen in the GOP-dominated legislature. For two, he wants to improve the state’s infrastructure — one example being the lack of roads to his own high school, the largest in the state, causing regular traffic jams. Third, he wants to support legislation introduced by Senator Tina Maharath (another young Asian-American Democratic legislator) to develop a curriculum for teaching Asian-American history in classrooms.

“Look beyond our age,” Cao said. “I know our age is like the wow factor or the pizazz factor on who we are as candidates, but I want you to look at the policies. I want you to look at the values ​​we stand for.

sam laurent

In Hamilton County, Lawrence is running against Rep. Sara Carruthers, a two-term Republican incumbent. It’s an equally tough district for Democrats — more than 60% of its voters are registered Republicans, according to Dave’s Redistricting App.

His ruling goals include protecting access to abortion for women, legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, access to intrastate trains in Ohio, and expanding the clean energy generation like wind and solar in Ohio.

He said a full house of just 19 would probably destroy the state. But having a few around has its value – who better to represent the interests of young Ohioans? Who better to understand the realities of finding student loans in an inflationary economy? Or assess recently passed legislation allowing teachers to carry guns in Ohio, which he called “incredibly unpopular” among young people.

He sees former presidential candidate and current US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg as a role model. He went door to door for House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Columbus, and also volunteered for Congressman Tim Ryan’s U.S. Senate campaign.

“What everyone should know about us: We take this very seriously,” he said. “There is a reason this Democratic process is in place. There’s a reason the law says you’re allowed to run at my age. There’s a reason people won at my age. I think we should test this theory.

Rhyan Goodman

Of the three teenagers, Goodman has the best chance of winning when it comes to raw demographics. His Athens County district shares 52-45 for Republicans.

He will face Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, a successful fundraiser and former House executive seeking his fourth term. Edwards has won a landslide victory in every election since 2016.

Goodman does not have a campaign website that could be localized. He did not respond to calls or text messages requesting an interview.

According to The Athens News, he signed up to run in February at age 19 using his college dorm as his residence.

His budding political career has already caused a scandal. In April, he resigned from the Ohio University student senate before facing an impeachment trial. According to The New Political, a student publication, Goodman was accused of coordinating an effort to remove former treasurer Simar Kalkat from her post. He reportedly encouraged student senators to accuse Kalkat of intimidation.

This article was republished with permission from the Ohio Capital Journal. To learn more about new Ohio policies, visit

Bonny J. Streater