Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson used the first day of the Minnesota State Fair Thursday to urge Gov. Mark Dayton to take part in 13 debates between now and Nov. 4.
Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, wants two of the debates to occur at the State Fair. At a news conference, he wasted no time in criticizing Dayton, a Democrat, for declining an invitation from MPR News to debate there.
Dayton is ducking debates, Johnson said.
"I think everybody is ready to hear where we differ and what our visions are for the state of Minnesota," Johnson said. "So now is the time to do it rather than waiting another two to three weeks."
Debates at the State Fair would allow the candidates to interact with everyday Minnesotans, said Johnson, who received a bit of that give and take before his news conference ended.
Union pipefitter Matt Faue, of Corcoran, asked Johnson why Republicans always campaign against unions.
"Trust me, I'm not a die-hard liberal but I have to vote to keep my job which keeps me on the Democratic side," Corcoran said. "You guys learn to play with the unions better, you can have that whole 16 to18 percent of the vote and swing every election."
Johnson told Faue that he grew up in a union household and represented employers and unions as an attorney. He then shifted the discussion to ways to improve the economy.
"We're probably not going to agree on all union-related issues, but I think it's important that Republicans, Democrats and everybody else understand that a big chunk of the population are hardworking people whether they are in unions or not," he said.
Johnson said he intends to appear at the fair nearly every day and hopes to spend more time interacting with voters like Faue. But his attempt to make headlines over his debate challenge was overshadowed when Dayton made an even bigger splash on opening day.
The governor took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge aimed at raising money to fight ALS, also know as Lou Gerhig's Disease. Dayton agreed to have the bucket of cold water dumped on his head during conservative talk show radio host Joe Soucheray's live broadcast from the fair.
Dozens of onlookers, TV cameras and reporters were there to capture the event. Dayton said he was looking for a way to take the challenge and raise awareness for the cause.
"It's good fun," he said. "That's what the State Fair is about, having good fun."
It wasn't the only appearance Dayton made at the fair. He was interviewed onstage by a Star Tribune columnist and shook hands at the DFL Party booth.
One thing Dayton won't be doing at the fair is debating Johnson. He said Johnson's debate request is a "contrived issue."
Dayton said he would debate six times between Labor Day and Election Day -- three times in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and three times in rural Minnesota. He said Johnson should lay out where he stands on issues before any debates take place.
"I think he should go around the state and lay out his positions," Dayton said. "If he wants to talk about the business climate then he should talk about it. He claims everyone is leaving then why do we have the lowest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area and why do we have low unemployment rates all over the state of Minnesota? He wants to debate then let's hear him put some flesh on the bones. Then we'll have something to debate."
The candidates for governor weren't the only ones to argue over the number of debates. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden called on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken to debate six times. Franken countered with an offer of three debates between now and Election Day.