Primary Preview: Ethan Sonneborn

Published: Jul. 18, 2018 at 1:00 PM EDT
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Ethan Sonneborn is among four Democrats running for Vermont governor on the Aug. 14 primary ballot. The Bristol eighth-grader isn't a typical candidate, but he believes he brings unique perspective to the race.

Sonneborn says he read about Bobby Kennedy when he was five and he's been enamored with politics since then. That was nine years ago. This summer, as he prepares to enter high school, he's campaigning to be the state's top elected official. The youngest candidate by at least two decades.

Reporter Neal Goswami: Your natural constituency would be your fellow students, but they can't vote. How do you counter that?

Ethan Sonneborn: Well, I mean, I think my campaign transcends age. I want people to think of me as a pragmatic progressive who happens to be 14.

His age has it's challenges in a statewide campaign. "I can't drive. That's pretty much the biggest one, especially now that it's summer," Sonneborn said.

The political enthusiast learned there's no minimum age in Vermont to run for governor. After that, current events propelled him into the race. "I had a culmination of frustrations with politics as usual. And it kind of -- it reached a boiling point after Charlottesville when I realized that my generation could be doing so much better," Sonneborn said.

One of Sonneborn's biggest frustrations with Gov. Phil Scott is what he considers to be inconsistent leadership. "I think his leadership style is either obstructionist or it's too easygoing," he said.

But to face Scott, Sonneborn must win the Democratic primary which has three others on the ballot -- former utility executive Christine Hallquist, water quality advocate James Ehlers, and dance festival founder and activist Brenda Siegel.

Sonneborn says his candidacy is clearly different. "Their perspective is about issues that affect them. My perspective is about issues that affect me," he said.

Among those issues is education. As the only candidate in the public school system, Sonneborn says he has a better perspective. He says he knows what crushing student debt means for young Vermonters. Despite the challenges -- and long odds -- Sonneborn says he knows his decision to run was the right one.

Reporter Neal Goswami: No moments of clarity where you think, 'This was not the right decision?'

Ethan Sonneborn: Never.

Next week we'll look at the two Republicans in the race -- Gov. Phil Scott and a challenger, Keith Stern.