Torstein Lerhol is a 32-year-old politician for the Center Party who hopes to become the next mayor of Vang, a scenic mountain municipality in Oppland County. He weighs less than 40 pounds and lies in a wheelchair, but doesn’t see that as a problem.
“I have joked that the only tasks I don’t think I’ll be able to do as mayor is to bang the gavel on the table and cut ribbons,” Lerhol told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week.
Lerhol was born with the spinal and muscular disease known as SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), and doctors didn’t think he’d live past the age of two. He has so far defied all the odds, and even though he depends on round-the-clock help, he doesn’t think his physical challenges will hinder him as mayor. The election committee of his rural-oriented party (Vang Senterparti) doesn’t think so either.
“We have chosen to put Torstein at the top of our list this time, because he is the best candidate we have,” Kari Bø Wangensten, who leads the nomination committee for the Vang chapter of the Center Party, told NRK.
Voters in Norway formally vote for parties, not individual candidates. When they’re in the election booth, they choose a list of candidates that’s already been chosen by the party they want to support. When municipal elections roll around next autumn, Lerhol will top his party’s list and thus be assured of the mayor’s post if the Center Party wins enough votes.
Lerhol has long been active in the Center Party, which held political control over Vang for 35 years until 2011, when the Labour Party’s mayor candidate, Vidar Eltun, took over. Eltun is keen on a third term and thus will be running for re-election as Labour’s candidate once again, now up against Lerhol.
“It’s a bit fun that Torstein was a student in the first class I had as a teacher here in Vang,” Eltun said. “Torstein has surprised me all along, and he still does (now as a political opponent), so this is quite special.”
Eltun can confirm that the mayor’s job is demanding, “and it will probably be extra demanding for Torstein, but certainly not impossible.” The region known as Innlandet Fylkeskommune that makes up Oppland and Hedmark counties has “new challenges, greater opportunities” as its motto. That can certainly apply to Lerhol.
NRK noted how Lerhol already has management experience from his regular job at private health care provider Aleris. He commutes on a weekly basis between an aparment in Oslo and his family’s farm in Vang. Now he’ll concentrate on becoming political leader of the 1,600 residents of Vang.
“The municipality has done so much for me (in terms of support and health care services), and it’s great to give something back,” Lerhol told NRK. “I want to promote the community, and show that we are folks who can and will do things.” Like most of his party colleagues he opposes centralization of public services and advocates support to outlying areas because he thinks it’s important to keep them populated. Lerhol participates in the annual hunting season, loves the great outdoors that surrounds Vang and wants to keep Vang vigorous.
“To boost and represent Vang as a place that goes against the centralization trend, that’s the goal,” Lerhol said.