Photo: Groven, in suit and tie, calls BS on Sen. Warren Limmer.
Pity poor Warren Limmer, Republican of Maple Grove and a former corrections officer, who was handed his potooty this week by a group of students led by Josh Groven, a senior at the School of Environmental Sciences in Eagan. It’s safe to bet the former corrections officer never saw it coming.
Because how many of Limmer’s constituents know enough parliamentary process to understand how the will of the people gets subverted in the people’s house? Or put another way, how a cynic kills a bill that has the enthusiastic support of the public but not so much the lobbyists. Groven knows: Bills that don’t get committee hearings don’t advance to a vote. Limmer has refused to take testimony on gun control.
Energized though he was by this month’s youth-organized gun control marches and the sight of the Parkland shooting survivors in the national spotlight, Groven fears that the Limmers of the world won’t change until forced into close proximity with the young people trying to throw the impact of gun violence into stark relief.
To that end, earlier this week Groven, 17, and two dozen of his fellow students of American government staged a sit in in Limmer’s Capitol office in St. Paul, punctuated by an impromptu turn at the testifiers’ table during a Senate hearing on another issue. Limmer? He gaveled Groven out of order, cut his mic and had him escorted out.
What does Limmer find so frightening? Groven, in his own lightly edited words, made that much clear in a short interview. If you want to stay abreast of Groven’s plans, follow him at @JoshGroven0
BH: Walk us back to the start of your activism.
JG: I’ve always been really interested in politics. I started doing policy debate in freshman year and that requires you to be very attuned to political issues so I have always had my fingers on the pulse of political discussions. I’ve always been appalled by the gun control debate and the lack of urgency there. But more recently of course it was the Parkland shooting which just seemed like a tipping point.
The shooting itself to me wasn’t significantly different from others but the moment that followed it was. Particularly the Parkland teens, and how they became politically active. That not only inspired me but it made me think we might actually be able to do something. Because the majority of the time high school students are not enthusiastic about activism, especially when it’s not convenient. But the Parkland kids, it seemed like a good kick-off point where I would be able to mobilize kids to take action.
BH: What do you think is so galvanizing about those Parkland students?
JG: When we interviewed Sen. Limmer in his office he was sort of like, “Oh, this is just an emotional moment and we’ll get over it and no one will be calling for gun control again.” And I think what’s so effective about the Parkland students is they weren’t basing their arguments in emotion. Before it was like, “We have to mourn, we have to grieve,” and that was an emotional response, and that’s totally okay. But the Parkland students took the data, the statistics to prove that gun control is needed. That scared politicians like Marco Rubio around the nation.
BH: So tell us what action you chose to take.
JG: I helped organize my school’s walkout on the 14th, which was of course held nationwide and I helped organize students from Apple Valley and Prior Lake. That was a really cool moment and it reinforced my theory that we could finally organize students because we had a huge turnout. There were hundreds of kids there, which defied my expectations.
The thought I had was, “This is great and all, but our politicians can sit comfortably in their offices and in their homes because we are physically removed from them.” The sit-in was my idea of creating a very intimate interaction between the students and the politicians that would really force them to look us in the face and say no instead of being able to hide behind decorum, to hide behind their legislation.
BH: Tell us about the sit-in.
JG: We had a group of about 22 show up. We went to Limmer’s office around 8:30. We talked to his [legislative assistant] who said, “Well you don’t have an appointment.” And we said, “That’s okay, we will wait.” And then we all just sat down. We ended up being there for 13 hours.
BH: Why did you pick Limmer?
JG: Because he is the chair of the Public Safety Committee that would hear any gun control bill brought before the Senate. He’s not the majority leader, but Limmer is the final decision-maker about what goes before the committee, where it has to go before it goes on the Senate floor. So he’s sort of the lynchpin of the situation.
Just yesterday another representative and another senator renewed a push to get those gun bills into committee to be heard. But they’ve been trying that for months and have not been given any access.
Limmer did meet with us in the morning for about 20 minutes, which is funny because his legislative assistant told us he was booked weeks out. He just basically threw the same arguments at us lawmakers have been using about why they can’t let those bills have hearings. What we told him is these bills have been written, they have bipartisan support. Two Democrats and two Republicans signed on.
We were basically asking him to fulfill the basic function of democracy which is to allow opinions to be heard. Which wasn’t even being fulfilled.
Then we went to the hearing itself. That’s when we tried to speak to Sen. Limmer directly and that’s when he had us escorted out and cut the mic. After that we went back to his office and sat there for another five to six hours.
BH: What do you want to do with the momentum?
JG: We’re trying to figure out what event to do next. There’s consensus among my peers and I that we need to do something bigger. We threw this together in about four days. So the group was smaller than I would have liked it to be. I think it was effective for that situation because I think it was almost like a political tactical squad.
But I think in the future I would like a much bigger turnout. Over the next couple of weeks I would like to network with the leaders at other schools to try to coordinate efforts. And try to get hundreds of hundreds of kids.
But really my focus is to try to find other unique ways to protest because reading the responses from lawmakers and reading the media coverage, I think the big marches and the loud events are not convincing to them. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s very easy for them to hide from them, to distance themselves. Really, I’m just trying to come up with the next minute of close proximity so we don’t lose this moment.