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In a victory for snarky teenage girls -- and, oh yeah, all Americans who value free speech -- Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas has apologized for demanding that 18-year-old Emma Sullivan atone for insulting him on Twitter.
Following Emma's lead, Gov. Brownback took to social media and posted his statement on Facebook, explaining, "My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms." And it's a good thing that he's learned that First Amendment lesson, because the Facebook comments responding to his statement make Sullivan's "#heblowsalot" barb sound like a word hug. Let's put it this way: The good people of Kansas would never get any governing if his staff had to chase down every commenter for a scolding -- never mind every Kansas resident behind his 52 percent disapproval rating.
It's great that Brownback recognized that he'd dug himself a PR nightmare hole -- nobody (liberal or conservative) likes the guy who takes away freedom of speech just because he got his feelings stepped on by a little girl. But by keeping the apology general (rather than specifically addressing Sullivan) and blaming his staff for the "over-reaction," Brownback now looks like he's trying to downplay the story and act like the whole thing was much media ado about nothing. Which would be fine -- except that he created the story in the first place. Emma Sullivan didn't call CNN to say "Brownback sucks." She'd still be tweeting to just 65 friends (not the 7,000 plus she's accrued since the story broke) if Brownback hadn't instructed his director of communications to monitor social media daily and track anything mean that anyone says about him. Again, with that 52 percent disapproval rating, one has to wonder: How are they getting any actual governing done?
It's easy to blame a rogue staffer for getting over excited and tattling to Sullivan's principal. But director of communications Sherriene Jones-Sontag must have gotten the idea to firmly deal with Twitter insults from somewhere. Most likely, her boss. The Brownback administration and Sullivan's high school clearly thought they had every right to intimidate and silence a teenage girl for expressing her opinion. And it wasn't until that girl stood up for herself -- and got the rest of us to pay attention in the process -- that they realized why bullying young girls into silent submission might not look so great from the outside.
Here's what would have been better: If Brownback had agreed to Sullivan's request for a little face time so they could discuss the issues, like why he killed all the state funding for arts education and voted against a bill providing low-cost contraception on college campuses -- in other words, why Sullivan (and plenty of other constituents) thinks he sucks. If Brownback's alignment with the C-Family (a religious political group that disdains the notion of women holding public office) means he's uncomfortable debating a woman, he could have simply apologized to Sullivan directly and acknowledged that his staff probably has better things to do with their tax dollar-paid time than track tweets.