Teen tweeter won’t apologize to governor

An 18-year-old student won’t apologize for a rude tweet about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, despite her high school principal’s demand. Emma Sullivan said she isn’t sorry.

As the governor greeted Youth in Government participants in Topeka last week, Sullivan tweeted:  “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person (hash)heblowsalot.”

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.

Which sounds awfully petty.

YiG contacted Sullivan’s principal, who gave her talking points for a written apology. It’s not clear if her refusal to apologize will have consequences. (Update: The governor has apologized for his staff’s overreaction, reaffirming his support for free speech, and the principal has backed down as well.)

Sullivan said she disagrees with Brownback politically, particularly his decision to veto the Kansas Arts Commission’s entire budget, making Kansas the only state in the nation to eliminate arts funding. Brownback has argued arts programs can flourish with private dollars and that state funds should go to core government functions, such as education and social services.

“I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers. If she wants to tweet her opinion about Gov. Brownback, I say for her to go for it and I stand totally behind her,” said Julie Sullivan, the student’s mother.

 

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Comments

  1. Why did Brownback’s staff feel it was appropriate to contact the youth in government program? The AP story includes the following quote: Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor’s spokeswoman, told The Star previously that Sullivan’s message wasn’t respectful and that it takes mutual respect to “really have a constructive dialogue.” Brownback’s office didn’t return calls or emails Sunday from the AP.
    http://news.yahoo.com/teen-tweeter-wont-apologize-kan-governor-230737888.html

    I think the governor’s staff asked for the treatment they’re receiving. If you really want students to learn more about government, which is the avowed purpose of the Youth in Government program, many of them won’t like what they see. They have an absolute right to express that displeasure.

    As I understand it, the Supreme Court has affirmed students’ rights to free speech on political issues. The principal is out of line. The principal should have asked the governor’s staff if they didn’t have better things to do than monitor teen twitter feeds. Perhaps the governor should implement some cuts in the budget for the governor’s staff. They have too much time on their hands, if they’re spending their time trying to force principals to coerce apologies from students expressing their opinions of political figures.

  2. You are a day behind the news cycle. Brownback has personally apologized already.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/governor-brownback-apologizes-emma-sullivan-twitter-tiff-article-1.983472

    Haven’t heard that the principal has apologized yet for his overreaction, though.

  3. Is it an overreaction? A few manners go a long way, even when you are at extreme odds with the other person.

    On the other hand, much depends on how the principal approached the question and the student.

    • It’s an overreaction because the offense happened outside the principal’s jurisdiction. Student tweets aren’t school-related.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    While it was inappropriate for Brownback’s office to contact the principal, the kid lacks class.

    Her mom’s reaction is a bit disappointing:

    “I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers. If she wants to tweet her opinion about Gov. Brownback, I say for her to go for it and I stand totally behind her,” said Julie Sullivan, the student’s mother.

    Did she raise her daughter to be a dishonest, disrespectful bragger, too?

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m with Stacy on this one — no heroes here. Just a petty, self-absorbed malcontent and a petty, overreaching bureaucrat, and a petty, image-conscious executive staff.

  6. Mr. Lopez,

    There is obviously one big difference… I expect teenagers to be self-absorbed malcontents… it comes with the territory for the most part. Let’s not play the “moral equivalence” game here. Adults in positions of power should be held to much higher standards.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I wasn’t making moral judgments… just pointing out that there weren’t any heroes.

  7. I wrote on this one the other day, and can’t help but notice that the student in this case was participating in a program as a representative of her school. It is therefore perfectly legitimate for the school to discipline her for her actions during the YiG program. Think of the Morse v. Frederick, the Hazelwood school newspaper case and the Fraser campaign speech case for legal backing for this position.

    At the same time, I reject the notion of a forced apology — as I do in all situations — because compelled speech is generally insincere speech and teaches those compelled that it is appropriate to lie to get out of trouble,

    And yeah — I think it was the height of idiocy to bring this to anyone’s attention in the first place.

  8. It is therefore perfectly legitimate for the school to discipline her for her actions during the YiG program.

    She did not insult the governor to his face, during her visit. She did Tweet about the visit, using a common teenage vulgarity. Note that teens use the term frequently in slangy, casual conversation.

    When I think of all the teens who don’t know and don’t care about politics, I much prefer a teen who has an opinion, and is wiling to express it. We don’t have a tradition of political satire and debate, in contrast to Europe. UK House of Commons debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xUy2inkGHQ

    US House of Representatives debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOqMxmsMbUo

    The empty chairs in the US congress are exquisitely polite.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      So, being an engaged, ignorant a-hole is better than indifference? it’s not much to hang your hat on.

  9. I agree with Stacy and Michael.