Political debates should be free and open to the public

As a concerned citizen who has recently become involved in local politics, I am dismayed to hear that the incumbent congressman in Congressional District 3, Erik Paulsen, and his challenger, Democrat Dean Phillips, will be participating in the first debate of this election season at a luncheon, in a private venue with a $60 price tag attached, on Aug. 21. This debate is hosted by the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce and will be moderated by KSTP’s Tom Hauser. A discounted cost of $35 is available to Chamber of Commerce members, which comes with a $400 – $4,000 annual membership fee.

Political debates for any seat should be free and open to the public. An exclusive, private debate perpetuates the notion that civic engagement is only for the well-connected and wealthy. This is not a new phenomenon – in fact, this occurred with Paulsen and Terri Bonoff in 2016 – however, this doesn’t make in any better. In fact, it makes it worse by solidifying the concept that the little guy doesn’t matter. As far as I know, there is no official effort by the Chamber or either campaign to record the debate and make it available for non-attendees to view.

Voter turnout is a rampant problem across the United States, even in the high turnout state of Minnesota. There is no wonder it’s that way when people can’t even see a candidate debate unless they pay $60 and take a half day off of work to go to a limited-seating luncheon. If we, collectively, want engaged informed citizens, this is not the way to do it.

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