Like many teenagers, Sisters resident Kale Gardner has a YouTube channel.
But unlike many other teenagers, Kale doesn’t use that channel to stream video game play-throughs or record frequent blogs about his life. Instead, he talks about climate change and education reform with politicians, like U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden or Gov. Kate Brown.
Kale, 14, said his politically minded interests are different from many of his classmates at Sisters Middle School. He hopes to become a trusted journalist someday.
“A lot of people don’t have faith in the media anymore, and it’s sad,” he said. “Journalism isn’t making up falsehoods; it’s telling the truth, and I want to restore faith in the news media.”
Since January 2020, Kale has periodically posted video interviews with well-known politicians to his YouTube page. And not just ones from Oregon: Last January, he chatted with Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, and Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.
Kale’s first interview was with Brown, whom he met after she noticed a poster of his at an election rally in 2018 and asked to take a picture with it. At the time, Kale’s family only lived a couple blocks away from the governor’s mansion in Salem, so the two developed a relationship, Kale said.
“Me and Kate are pretty good friends,” he said. “We talk now and then.”
Brown had nothing but praise for Kale.
“Kale embodies the lively spirit and ingenuity of Oregon’s youth,” she wrote in an email to The Bulletin. “He has been determined to make the world a better place, and I have no doubt that he someday will.”
Kale’s interview with the governor in 2020 mainly focused on his concerns about food waste. Environmental concerns are a primary talking point for many of his interviews, he said.
“Climate change, it is so crucially important that we deal with this,” Kale told The Bulletin. “If we don’t put an end to greenhouse gases … then we simply won’t have a planet.”
A few of Kale’s interviewees — including the one nonpolitician he’s posted a video with, former Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard — he met in person before arranging a filmed chat. But Kale contacts the majority of the politicians via emails or letters, asking if they want to be interviewed, he said.
“A lot of times, people tell me, ‘you should write,’” Kale said. “That’s one thing that helps me (get in touch).”
Kale has big ambitions for future interviews. His “waiting list,” as he put it, includes recently elected U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff from Georgia, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and arguably the most well-known member of the U.S. House of Representatives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But the top person on Kale’s interview wish list? President Joe Biden, whom Kale admires for his ability to overcome the deaths of multiple family members, he said.
“One reason I respect and admire him so much is simply because of all he’s went through,” Kale said. “Where he’s at today, it’s really amazing, all the laws he’s passed. He’s just such an amazing guy.”
Kale’s father, Randy Gardner, said he’ll find his son writing letters to politicians early in the morning or late at night.
He said he’s proud of Kale’s blossoming interest in journalism.
“People enjoy being interviewed by him, and he’s very articulate with his interviews and questions,” Gardner said. “I feel like he definitely has potential to really do something.”
Kale’s two favorite interviews are with Wyden and Kenyatta, he said.
“I was very grateful that Sen. Wyden was able to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with me,” he said.
Wyden, in an email, said he was impressed with Kale’s interviewing prowess and concern for the country’s well-being.
“(Kale) came to our interview well-prepared with thoughtful questions that reflect what’s on young Oregonians’ minds about the climate crisis, homelessness and more,” he wrote.
“Our interview reinforces the confidence I have about the future.”