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Businessman buys tickets for $60 Paulsen-Phillips debate, will give them away

Michael Sweeney is mad that this is the only scheduled debate between the pair at this point.

Want to see the first debate of election season between Rep. Erik Paulsen and Democratic challenger Dean Phillips? That'll cost you $60.

So far, Tuesday's debate organized by the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce is the only scheduled debate between the two 3rd Congressional District candidates, which has resulted in criticism from some of their constituents.

Among those infuriated by the hefty price-tag (which includes lunch) is Michael Sweeney, a Twin Cities-based businessman who is the former President and CEO of Steinway Musical Instruments, and former chairman of the Star Tribune board.

On Saturday, Sweeney called the situation "absurd" and in his anger, he bought 60 tickets for the event that he will give away to CD-3 constituents who want to attend.

By the way, that's a total cost of $3,600.

Access to Congress members has been an abiding talking point among constituents in CD-3, which covers a wide area of the western Twin Cities suburbs.

Paulsen has come in for increasing criticism, particularly since President Donald Trump took office, for not holding enough public town halls.

His opponent, Phillips, has made public several requests of Paulsen to meet him for a public debate, most recently at a voter forum at the Coon Rapids Civic Center this past Monday.

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Nonetheless, his attendance at the chamber forum on Tuesday hasn't exempted him from criticism either.

In a letter to City Pages, Phillips-supporting Bloomington resident Rebekah Nelson wrote: "One of his [Phillips'] big campaign issues is getting money out of politics. Participating in this debate flies in the face of that concept."

"My understanding is that Erik Paulsen, per his usual routine, is refusing to engage in a debate that is open to the public, which is poor behavior from a federal representative," she added.

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