Brownback apologizes to high school student for ‘over-reaction’ to ‘he sucked’ tweet

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
Font Size:

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback apologized Monday for the “over-reaction” of his staff to a tweet written by a high school student.

Last week, 18-year-old Emma Sullivan found herself in trouble after a member of the governor’s staff who monitors his online image complained to her school about a derisive tweet she wrote.

The tweet said, “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” She didn’t actually make the comment to the governor but was reportedly venting about cuts to arts funding in schools.

Sullivan was called to her school principal’s office and instructed to write an apology letter. Talking points were provided. Sullivan refused, saying that she wasn’t sorry.

“That wasn’t respectful,” Brownback spokesperson Sherriene Jones-Sontag explained to The Kansas City Star. “It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet.”

Sullivan’s refusal to apologize became a national sensation and her Twitter following exploded from 65 to over 11,500.

On Monday Sullivan’s school district released a statement backing her position, writing that it “acknowledges a student’s right to freedom of speech and expression is constitutionally protected.”

Later on Monday, Brownback’s office backed down, and the governor himself issued an apology.

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

Popular news website Gawker described the episode with this acerbic headline: “Tweeting teen completes total victory over crybaby Kansas governor.”

Follow Steven on Twitter