Odds are, you have never heard of Emma Sullivan, an 18-year old high school student at Shawnee Mission East in Prairie Village, Kansas.
On Tuesday, however, during a visit to the principal’s office, she learned that Governor Sam Brownback’s office was apparently familiar with her—or at least, her work.
According to the Kansas City Star, Sullivan received a nearly hour long scolding because of a harmless tweet left on Monday: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”
Sullivan, a self-declared liberal and registered Democrat, says she was only “joking around.” She and her friends disagree with Governor Brownback’s positions, but she never actually made any “mean comments” to the governor.
So, what’s the big deal?
It turns out that the governor’s director of communications, Sherriene Jones-Sontag and some kind of “Hurt Feelings Task Force” monitor the web on a daily basis for any content containing the governor’s name. It was during this routine exercise that someone on staff brought the tweet to Jones-Sontag’s attention. According to the Star, she “wasn’t amused.”
Jones-Sontag asserts that Sullivan’s comment was disrespectful. “In order to really have a constructive dialogue, there has to be mutual respect.” It turns out, though, that that respect doesn’t apply to dissenting opinions or the First Amendment of the Constitution.
In fact, the governor’s office promptly notified Shawnee Mission East about the tweet. The school’s principal, Dr. Karl Krawitz, told Sullivan she had embarrassed the school and the school district. He also told her she needed to do “damage control” with the governor’s office, instructing her to write letters of apology to Mr. Brownback.
As news of the incident spread on Thanksgiving Day (see here, here, and here), Twitter lit up with comments in defense of Ms. Sullivan.
Dana Houle, the former campaign manager for Tom Holland, Brownback’s Democratic opponent in last year’s gubernatorial race, observed via Twitter, that it was convenient that “Team Brownback focused on squashing teen dissent” on the same day that Boeing announced that it may shutter its Kansas plant.”
Others (including this author) suggested that the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri intervene on behalf of Sullivan.
Still others took offense to the governor’s need to police the internet, tattletale and bully teen girls, and waste tax dollars on an internet espionage plan apparently meant to stoke the governor’s ego. This, of course, after he used tax payer dollars to fund a private attorney in a case against Planned Parenthood while asserting that Kansas doesn’t have the resources to fund the arts.
Twitter users bothered by “#HeBlowsAlot Gate” hope to attract the attention of larger media outlets, such as the Huffington Post, and personalities such as Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.
As of right now, some expect Jones-Sontag, or Dr. Krawitz to be fired for their role in the scandal. There is, after all, no reason a governor should be wasting time policing the internet for negative criticisms; not even if he’s personally solved his state’s or the nation’s economic woes, cured cancer, fixed an education system in jeopardy, or adequately addressed the numerous other substantive problems facing a state like Kansas. Of course, this is all just speculation and desire fueled by an agitated opposition.
Sullivan, who thumbed the tweet heard round the world, in Topeka on Monday at a Youth in Government program, intends to write her letters of apology over the Thanksgiving holiday. Perhaps they could start like this:
“In a democracy, freedom of expression is paramount. While I apologize for tweeting during a school-sponsored event, I am not sorry for expressing my views or my opinions. Nor am I sorry for exposing the manner in which the governor and his staff waste their time and the public’s money.”
To review some of tweets trending out of the Kansas City area tonight, search #heblowsalot. If, on the other hand, you would like to pressure the governor’s office to issue an immediate apology to Ms. Sullivan, you can contact them at (785) 296-3232.