Monday, November 28, 2011

Thinskinned Brownback


A high school girl in Kansas got caught tweeting snark about the governor, Sam Brownback (R), during a field trip to the capital.

The Shawnee Mission East senior was taking part in a Youth in Government program last week in Topeka, Kan., when she sent out a tweet from the back of a crowd of students listening to Brownback’s greeting. From her cellphone, she thumbed: “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback,” and then specified what the comments were.

She actually made no such comment and said she was “just joking with friends.” But Brownback’s office, which monitors social media for postings containing the governor’s name, saw Sullivan’s post and contacted the Youth in Government program.

Sullivan received a scolding at school and was ordered to send Brownback an apology letter. She said Prinicipal Karl R. Krawitz even suggested talking points for the letter she was supposed to turn in Monday.

Now the student, Emma Sullivan, 18, says she is not sorry for what she did and is refusing to write the letter.

The only reason this is news is because the governor’s office was monitoring tweets, looking for nasty things people say about him. (By the way, the reason Ms. Sullivan is not happy with the governor, other than the fact that he’s a total dork, is because he cut out the entire budget for the Kansas Arts Commission, which funds, among other things, the William Inge Theatre Festival. You go, girl!) This is how the people of Kansas want their tax dollars spent: tapping into tweets?

There are a couple of lessons here. The one for Gov. Brownback is something every high school teacher knows by heart: you can never win a public argument with a student. Even if you’re totally right and they’re totally wrong, you’ll still lose in the court of public opinion, and it only makes you look mean and petty. The second lesson is that any governor’s office that would rat out a teenager for writing a nasty tweet or Facebook posting has a lot of growing up to do. Oh, and there’s that little thing called the First Amendment that they might want to check out, too.

Update: Gov. Brownback has apologized to Ms. Sullivan.

My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.

I enjoyed speaking to the more than 100 students who participated in the Youth in Government Program at the Kansas Capitol. They are our future.

I also want to thank the thousands of Kansas educators who remind us daily of our liberties, as well as the values of civility and decorum.

Again, I apologize for our over-reaction.

Good for him.