Jack Bellemere is a pretty precocious kid. He’s got a mop of curly brown hair, glasses and a bit of a shy demeanor. He likes karate and U.S. history and has a solid habit of shooting rapid-fire questions to his ever-patient mom: How old do you have to be to go to college? Which streets run parallel? What’s eminent domain again?
Recently, Jack asked some questions that got him and his mom, Kim Bellemere, started on a path to Jack meeting the Douglas County Commission and sitting in on its meetings. He wants to be a county commissioner. They told Commissioner Nancy Thellman, whom Kim knows through acquaintances, and she got him started with a primer on how things there work. The only problem? Jack’s about nine years too young.
Jack, 9, is going into the fourth grade at Raintree Montessori. He technically lives over the line in Leavenworth County, but that hasn’t dampened his civic interest.
Thellman introduced him to the rest of the commission during its meeting last week and praised the “great questions” he had asked her in a meeting beforehand.
“We’re figuring out ways to plug him in,” she said of getting Jack involved. “I love to see a young person thinking beyond himself.”
The process started after one of his inquisitive conversations with his mom, this one about proposed changes to the airport near their rural home. That got him to thinking about the process of county government. He’s always been interested in government in general, “partly because it’s so complicated,” he said. But he wanted to know more about it on the local level.
Jack’s political awareness may have rubbed off from those around him. He talked in an interview about a friend who wrote to President Obama and a cousin who wrote a petition to her local government to allow chickens as pets. In analyzing the commission meeting he sat in on, though, he’s got his very own nuanced take.
“I saw the need for it, but it seemed like those neighbors feel really strongly,” he said of the dispute over a proposal to build senior housing in an area where some surrounding residents object. “If I was a commissioner, I would consider what they say.”
But, though he says he doesn’t “have any reservations” about becoming a commissioner now that he knows more about it, he still won’t be able to until he’s at least 18. That’s frustrating for ever-curious Jack.
When the topic of age comes up, Kim asked him what it feels like to be told he can’t do something.
“What do you think?” he said. “I don’t like it.”
He may get a new interest — he’s into studying Latin now, too, and wants to study all the foreign languages he can — but he recognizes that there’s at least student government to do in those nine long years he’s got to wait. And then after that?
“I’m thinking of doing it while I’m in college,” he said of being a county commissioner. “It’ll help me pay for college, too.”
That is, at least for what he calls his “first degree.”