While students in Bakersfield, California, are learning about democracy in the classroom this election season, one of their school bus drivers has set his sights on the Oval Office.
Benjamin Franklin Weigel, a retired Marine, has been driving for the Bakersfield City School District since 2014, all the while eagerly waiting to be of age to fulfill his childhood dream of running for president.
“It had been something I thought about when I was younger,” Weigel said. “As I grew and matured, seeing the impact that politics has, I wanted to be involved.”
Billing himself as a man of the people, Weigel, who is running as an independent, said his 13-year military career, which includes seeing combat in Iraq, has given him unique exposure to a variety of responsibilities and cultures that other candidates lack. Even within Bakersfield—a city with a growing population of 363,630—Weigel noticed local politicians overlooking many sub-communities and cultures.
“One of the questions that came to mind was that many people worry about leaving their children and pets in a hot car, but they don’t worry about leaving them on a hot bus,” he said, explaining that when school starts at the end of summer, high temperatures can easily leave buses baking in the 90s and students at risk for overheating.
Additionally, Weigel has concerns about leaving a single school bus driver to supervise full busloads—up to 70 kids—especially when a driver must leave the bus to direct traffic for kids crossing the road, per California state regulation.
While the presidential campaign has given him a platform to bring these issues to light, Weigel also sends letters to California Gov. Jerry Brown, state senators and the school transportation authority.
“I reach out to people, whether or not they’re listening. I don’t know, but major candidates don’t see these things. Even without winning the election, being able to inspire people to run is a win in itself,” he added, alluding to another Marine from his platoon, Harvey Martin, who recently entered the presidential race in Arizona.
While contemplating a second run in 2020, Weigel said he looks forward to completing his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and pursuing a career in transportation administration.
In addition to local level transportation issues, Weigel said he fights for veteran rights, including better employment opportunities and easier access to health care for individuals outside of major metro areas.
“A lot of drivers focus on driving and that’s where they stay. Whether they don’t know how (to advance) or don’t ask why, or just enjoy the job, I don’t know,” Weigel said, but he advises others interested in making change to “jump in somehow, some way, and try to get your voice heard.”
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who landed on the top of the ticket for the Libertarian Party, will be the only third-party candidate to appear on ballots in all 50 states. However, according to Politics1, Weigel and more than 500 other candidates are possible write-in options for voters.