This week, a local news story (something that rarely happens here in Hooterville) has gotten the attention of the national media and it’s a good one. But first a little background on the players…
Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback
is quite the charming character (end sarcasm). He supports building a fence between the United States and Mexico (because Kansas, being a border state has a huge problem with Mexicans), wants a two-year limit on welfare that would result in the starvation of thousands of children in his state (gotta get those mooching kids off the gub’mint tit), thinks Intelligent Design should be taught in schools (because that pesky science is interfering with his personal Fundamentalist Christian dogma), has gutted a woman’s right to access for safe and constitutionally legal abortions (a lofty position from someone who will never face an unwanted pregnancy) and blocked the nomination of a Federal judge – not because she was gay, but because she had attended a same-sex commitment ceremony (yes, he’s a homophobe). Getting the picture? Enter one 18-year old perky blonde, Emma Sullivan…
Kansas Youth in Government sponsors events for high school students interested in politics and government. Ms. Sullivan was in attendance at one such function where Governor Brownback was a featured speaker. Now, Emma Sullivan, based on the e-mails we’ve shot back and forth, appears to be a bright, level-headed, socially conscious young lady, not prone to disrespect. She has a Twitter account where she had 65 followers. Pay attention kids because that number is relevant. While listening to Governor Brownback bloviate during this event, Ms. Sullivan availed herself of her constitutionally protected right to free speech and tweeted the following:
Now, this young lady didn’t stand on the steps of the Capitol building in Topeka and shout this, she didn’t blog it, she didn’t say it out loud – she Tweeted it to 65 of her friends, presumably, most of them other teenage friends. Enter Governor Brownback’s staffers. Apparently, they regularly monitor social media, culling anything that bears the esteemed Governor’s name and came across this Tweet. Being a public figure, one would think the Governor’s staffers would have seen Ms. Sullivan only had 65 Twitter followers (the Governor has around 3,000), and shrugged it off. But no, oh no, that’s not what they did at all. The Governor’s staffers contacted Kansas Youth in Government to complain about Ms. Sullivan’s perceived blatant display of disrespect toward the Governor and wanted something done about it. And done something was…
Our good friends at the Kansas Youth in Government program contacted Ms. Sullivan’s principal, one Karl R. Krawitz, who immediately summoned Ms. Sullivan to his office for an earnest discussion on free speech. It would seem that the principal at Shawnee Mission East High School, whose phone number is (913) 993-6600, and whose e-mail address is email@example.com (for those of you so inclined to congratulate him for his fine leadership *or not), advised Ms. Sullivan that she had embarrassed him, the school district and herself with her Tweet and he demanded, yes demanded that she write letters of apology to both Governor Brownback and the Kansas Youth In Government sponsors. He claimed her Tweet brought shame on them all and because of her, he was forced to do “damage control”. The Washington Post reports Krawitz even gave her talking points to hit in her letters of apology. Emma Sullivan, being the obedient, polite Midwestern girl she is, initially agreed to do that over the Thanksgiving break to merely put the incident behind her. Enter the national media.
Now, while I’m not generally a fan of the corporate media, I have to give them props on this one. For once, they presented the story in a straight-forward and factual manner. Kudos to the media and kudos to everyone who read her story, contacted her and encouraged her NOT to apologize to anyone. I was her age once. I was raised in a similar environment and at her age, had thoughts and opinions I didn’t keep to myself either. I was called into the principal’s office more than once for it too. I refused to apologize for my opinions but nothing bad ever happened to anyone because of it. In fact, I would submit to you that standing up for my beliefs and understanding the basic tenants of free speech has served me pretty well in this life – but this isn’t about me – it’s about Emma Sullivan and what she’s learned in the aftermath of her foray into speaking truth to power…
On Sunday, Sullivan said she’s decided not to apologize to Brownback. “I would do it again,” the 18-year-old told The Washington Post. She hopes her Tweet will spark a dialogue about free speech and has stated she’s even willing to sit down and talk with Governor Brownback. Doesn’t sound like that’s something in the works based on the response from Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag who stated in an interview with The Kansas City Star, “…constructive dialogue requires mutual respect. It was important for the organization to be aware of the comments their students were making.” She added, “It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet.” Yeah, it is on the internet, along with your idiotic response, Ms. Jones-Sontag. What you’re saying is that Governor Sam Brownback and his staff are so thin-skinned, they got their little feelings hurt by a girl and are hell-bent to exact their pound of flesh for same. Because Brownback and his staff wield power and influence, they thought they could embarrass this young women and make an example out of her.
How’s that working for you, Governor Brownback? You got #pwned (look it up, Sammy Boy) by a girl who just schooled you in freedom of speech, respecting other people’s opinions and public relations debacles. You’ve failed miserably at the first two and excel at the last. At this writing, Emma Sullivan now has 7,363 Twitter followers and the hashtag #heblowsalot was trending on Twitter for several days. Governor Brownback has 3,171 followers on Twitter. So, instead of him and his staff putting this to rest, saying it was a misunderstanding, distancing the Governor from it by claiming it was a staffer who had done it without his knowledge – hell, even I know how to spin a story – the Governor has remained silent and his staffers have doubled-down on their idiotic position.
This got me to thinking: (peacemaker that I am) this has all been blown so far out of proportion, it’s moved from the ridiculous to the sublime, so I’m offering my services to Ms. Sullivan, free of charge, as a professional writer to pen her apology to Governor Brownback. It would go a little something like this:
Governor Sam Brownback, Capitol, 300 SW 10th Avenue, Suite 241S, Topeka, KS 66612-1590
Dear Governor Brownback:
I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for hurting your delicate sensibilities by Tweeting my opinion about you to 65 of my teenage friends
you pussy. I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt. I would have thought a 50-something year-old man who has spent as much time in public service as you have could tolerate a little criticism , but I was wrong because you’re clearly a girl. My bad. I’ve teased teenage girlfriends with more than this and it didn’t send them tattling to my principal. But, your Governorship, while I’m here, I’ve decided to make a full confession for all the things I’m sorry for where you’re concerned, so I hope you’ll indulge me in this full disclosure of the thing for which I am repentant…
I’m sorry you hate women so much you’ve spent most of your time as leader of our fine State of Kansas making sure that Planned Parenthood clinics, where so many poor women rely on their services as their only form of affordable health care, have been effectively shut down, leaving tens of thousands of women without access to any healthcare at all. I’m sorry you’re so close-minded you believe Planned Parenthood’s only function is to provide abortions, when in fact, they provide reproductive counseling and contraceptives to poor women and are, in fact, the leaders in preventing abortion in Kansas.
I’m sorry you hate children so much you would refuse Federal subsidies that would have paid for more teachers and more free or reduced lunches to feed kids who rely on these programs as their only source of nutrition. Did you know, Governor, that more than 25 percent of the children in our state live in poverty and those children face hunger on a daily basis? I’m curious if you’ve eaten today
, you asshole.
I’m sorry you hate education so much that you would rather see schools closed and the arts go unfunded in the name of your
Fascism idealogical pedagoguery.
I’m sorry you hate free speech so much, and feel so threatened by the criticism of a teenage girl, you
are a sissy would permit your staff to use my school administration to bully me into an apology over a personal opinion because you are a Fascist. Hate to break it to you, Dickhead, Governor, but when you run for public office, you run an almost certain risk of having some of your constituents disagree with you and your sad attempt at trying to embarrass me has backfired on you. Free speech comes with personal responsibility and I’m willing to accept whatever comes my way for speaking my mind. I find it sad you and your staff view ME as the bully you’re not willing accept my right to differ with your public policies that have a direct negative result on my life.
Mostly, Sir, I’m sorry that you did not choose a more isolated profession where you would be free of public scrutiny from registered voters, such as myself. Might I recommend another line of work, say, somewhere outside the borders of our Democracy-loving nation
like Communist China? I hear Mexico is nice this time of year… and your party is working hard on building a fence between our two nations – a fence that would keep you safe from the likes of people like me.
Emma Kate Sullivan
Emma, darling, feel free to use any or all of my letter. No charge, honey. And for the record – #heblowsalot.
The judges results are in and Emma Sullivan has defeated the Governor in a knockout. May I introduce Emma Sullivan, undisputed champ-een of Freedom of Speech in the Great State of Kansas!
Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific.