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Why would an aide to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback try to punish a teenager for an innocent joke over Twitter? Leonard Pitts, Jr. examines the incident in his new column, “In Kansas, A Teen Beats Back Little Minds:”

We are talking about Emma Sullivan’s tweet — and the governor’s response. For those who haven’t heard, it seems Sullivan, an 18-year-old senior at a high school just south of Kansas City, Kan., heard Gov. Sam Brownback speak last week at a “Youth in Government” program in Topeka. Afterward, Sullivan, no fan of the governor, sent the following tweet to her Twitter followers, who numbered perhaps 60: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

She had not in fact met Brownback, much less said mean things to him. It was a joke, spelled j-o-k-e, among friends and it would have come and gone in her normal run of tweets about Justin Bieber and the “Twilight” movies, except the governor’s office happened upon it while patrolling the ‘Net for mentions of his name. Next thing you know, a Brownback aide contacts Youth in Government, which contacts Sullivan’s principal. Rather than defending her right to free expression and telling both Youth in Government and the governor’s office to take a flying leap, the principal calls Sullivan to his office and berates her for “embarrassing” the school. He orders her to apologize.

Sullivan has refused. On Monday she was vindicated, as Brownback apologized to her, saying his staff “overreacted.” Geez, ya think? It is astonishing that an aide to the state’s highest official would have the time or the interest necessary to monitor — and seek to punish — what is said about him by a teenager to an audience of fewer than 100 people. Apparently, Kansas is a paradise where all the serious problems have been solved.

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