KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas teenager who wrote a disparaging tweet about Gov. Sam Brownback rejected her high school principal's demand for a written apology. Now, it is the governor who is apologizing to the student, for the "over-reaction."
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Emma Sullivan, 18, of the Kansas City suburb of Fairway, said she isn't sorry and doesn't think such a letter would be sincere.
The Shawnee Mission East senior was taking part in a Youth in Government program last week in Topeka, Kan., when she sent out a tweet from the back of a crowd of students listening to Brownback's greeting. From her cellphone, she thumbed: "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.
Sullivan received a scolding at school and was ordered to send Brownback an apology letter. She said Prinicipal Karl R. Krawitz even suggested talking points for the letter she was supposed to turn in Monday.
The situation exploded after Sullivan's older sister contacted the media. Since then, Sullivan's following on Twitter has grown to about 3,000 people, up from about 65 before the tweet, and the media attention prompted the governor to respond.
Here is the governor's full message, posted on Facebook:
"My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.
I enjoyed speaking to the more than 100 students who participated in the Youth in Government Program at the Kansas Capitol. They are our future.
I also want to thank the thousands of Kansas educators who remind us daily of our liberties, as well as the values of civility and decorum.
Again, I apologize for our over-reaction."
Sullivan told the Associated Press said she thinks the tweet has helped "open up dialogue" about free speech in social media.
"I would do it again," she said.
Krawitz, her principal, told The Kansas City Star previously that the situation is a "private issue, not a public matter" but didn't return a phone message from The Associated Press at his home Sunday.
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 think it would be interesting to have a dialogue with him," she said. "I don't know if he would do it or not though. And I don't know that he would listen to what I have to say."
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.
Sullivan's mother, Julie, said she isn't angry with her daughter, even though she thinks she "could have chosen different words."
"She wasn't speaking to the 3,000 followers she has now," Julie Sullivan said. "She was talking to 65 friends. And also it's the speech they use today. It's more attention grabbing. 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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