Though He's Only 15, Eric Salem's Political Career Is Growing Like, Well, a Weed

updated 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Not all candidates celebrate success at the polls with a boozy bash. At Eric Salem's victory party in Lincoln, Nebr. last November, soda pop was served. It wasn't only that Salem's prize was modest: a seat on the five-member Noxious Weed Control Authority of Lancaster County, which includes Lincoln. Eric is also just 15—possibly the youngest person ever elected to public office in the U.S.

The board members, who get $20 for every monthly meeting they attend, spend $110,000 annually to wage war on weeds that threaten farmland or cause other problems. Eric, a B-average sophomore at Lincoln High School, got interested in such matters when a friend's mother died in a car accident. "Weeds covered the stop sign," he explains, "and the other driver couldn't see her."

When he ran for the board, local authorities questioned the legality of his candidacy but soon found that the only age minimums in the books were for such lofty officials as the governor (30 years old) and legislators (21). The flap, Eric concedes, "was really a big help." He even got appearances on the Carson and Today shows. But he also spoke at senior citizen centers, rang doorbells, and invested a $350 war chest ("completely private donations") in buttons and a billboard ad. He snared 21,377 votes, easily beating a 35-year-old printer and a 67-year-old former state agriculture department staffer to win one of the two open seats on the board.

Salem begins his four-year term this month. He aims to study "the flow of the board," then "maybe propose some stiffer penalties for violators" of weed laws. But there's little he can do about the law that older Nebraska officials are planning, which would bar elective office to anyone under 18. Eric doesn't take offense. "I was just making a point," he says. "I wanted to show that kids can be as effective as adults when given a chance."

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