Crawford County boasts rare candidate

Haley Page takes notes in her government class at Girard High School. The 18-year-old is running for mayor of Walnut. She is challenging an incumbent who has served since 2011. 

By Roger Nomer | The Joplin Globe

On Thursday, Haley Page was taking notes in her high school government class at Girard, Kansas, with framed portraits of statesmen such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln hanging on the wall nearby.

Page is 18 and is the youngest candidate to file in Crawford County, Kansas. She has voted in only one election — last November — a month after she became eligible.

Now she is running for mayor in Walnut, Kansas, population 220.

Page said inspiration to seek the office came on a walk one day when she noticed dilapidated buildings and grew concerned about Walnut’s future.

Page is challenging incumbent Mayor Benjamin Woodard, who has served since 2011.

Woodard, 43, works in construction and said he has been trying hard to keep a full council, which has had two unfilled seats.

He’s happy, he said, to see a young person take an interest.

“It’s up to everyone to make a difference to take their shot, do the best they can. It’s wonderful, her determination, if she wants to try to make a difference,” Woodard said. “Of course there’s something to be said about experience, but it takes a lot of courage and drive to want to do this.”

Many of Page’s classmates are unaware of her campaign as she has kept it quiet at school.

“My whole government class asked, ‘Can she really do that?’ We didn’t know you could at this age,” said Morgan Sevart, a classmate Haley enjoys lunch with occasionally. “I think it’s really cool. It’s definitely something that will catch attention on her resume, if she gets it.”

Her government teacher Jeremiah Hudson was surprised, too.

“But I think it’s impressive,” he said. “It’s neat to see that a kid not only cares enough but is willing to take personal time to do what’s best for her community.”

“We’re proud of her for it. And if she won, it certainly would give us something to talk about the next day, for sure.”

It was with her government class that Page took a walk to the nearby courthouse and registered to vote and learned residents can file for office when they turn 18.

She has made posts about her candidacy on the “Meanwhile in Walnut” Facebook page, which generated positive comments, she said.

“I’ve also visited with a lot of people, and they have all been supportive. They tell me it will be a lot of hard work and a learning experience, but I’m willing to learn all the rules.”

Page is scheduled to graduate in May and plans to attend Fort Scott Community College in the fall to pursue a possible career in agriculture or animal science.

“If I get elected, I’ll have to spend some time studying the budget and other things, because that’s all new to me,” she said. “But I plan to stay in Walnut awhile and I want to get it looking nice. I like small towns. You know everybody. You see each other all the time on walks, and you wave at each other. People in big cities sometimes don’t even know their neighbors. I guess I would just describe myself as a small-town girl.”

Stefanoni writes for the Joplin, Missouri Globe.

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