Commentary: Gov. Brownback can also learn from teen's tweet

Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez
Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez MCT

Meet the other Sullivan sister.

Olivia Sullivan is the older sibling of the Shawnee Mission East senior who created a media and blogosphere frenzy by her errant tweet about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last week. It was 18-year-old Emma who sent this overly-scrutinized message: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

It was rude. Not well thought out. Something a teenager might do. Emma actually never said a word to Brownback as he addressed the youth in government group.

But people pounced on the tweet, aided by the slow news cycle of the Thanksgiving holiday. Thousands commented online to news stories. And a contentious crew they are, with many launching political diatribes and name-calling of Brownback, liberals, conservatives and sometimes Emma.

Her Twitter followers grew from the 60 who were reading her comments about Justin Bieber, the Twilight movies and being a senior, to nearly 3,000.

Lucky for Emma, big sister has her back. And her email account.

Olivia is 19 and a political science and communications major at Wichita State University. She is giving Emma what she needs right now: support and guidance as she heads back to school today.

“I want to do whatever is in her best interest,” Olivia said Sunday afternoon, between managing the flood of email pouring into her sister’s account. The family is wisely guarded about Emma. No, she can’t be interviewed Monday during the day. (She’s got school.). No, she will not be at the school board meeting tonight. (She’s scheduled to work.) But she is still considering an offer to appear on CNN.

“This is a great opportunity for her,” her sister reminds. “I tell her she doesn’t want to look back on this and regret not saying her piece.”

But Emma’s not writing that letter of apology the principal wants sent to the governor. It’s not that she wants to be a contrarian. The decision is due to the savvy of Olivia, with input from their parents. Media are asking for copies of the never-to-be-crafted letter. Olivia rightly deduced that anything Emma says will be scrutinized and possibly misinterpreted. There’s no winning, so it’s best not to go there.

The takeaway lesson isn’t to pop off crude tweets to become the talk of the Internet or that students should fear expressing themselves to avoid overly-sensitive political staffers who will set the wheels in motion to land them in the principal’s office.

Rather, the sisters would like to see this social media equivalent of an Andy Warhol 15 minutes encourage constructive dialog on the policies coming from Brownback’s office. You couldn’t ask for a better lesson in student government.

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