Friday, August 29, 2003

Edwards turns on the southern charm

By Anthony Schinella/Staff Writer

Thursday, August 28, 2003

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail.

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Hot dogs, hamburgers, and hardball politics were served up to an early evening crowd Wednesday night outside of Manchester City Hall where Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards brought his "Real Solutions Express" to the voters of New Hampshire.

To the tune of John Mellencamp's "Small Town," Edwards welcomed about 150 people - including many of Manchester's homeless community who had come for the free food - to the event, saying he would hold over 100 similar town hall meetings across the state in the coming weeks.

"As you can probably see already, this is a family thing for us," he said, while his 5-year-old daughter Emma Claire grabbed the candidate's pant legs, waving at the crowd.

While Edwards did talk about some issues, he spent the bulk of his time chatting about his working class family background, while at the same time, lodging a number of attacks against President George W. Bush.

Standing in front of a semi-circle of chairs, acting as if he were part of an old time revival meeting, Edwards said he was the first member of his family to attend college. His grandmother came from a family of sharecroppers in South Carolina, while his father worked in a mill and his mother worked at the local post office. Edwards' younger brother, an electrical worker, is a card carrying member of the IBEW.

"I believe there are some simple fundamental differences between George Bush and most of us, and most of America," Edwards said. "[He] honors one thing: wealth. Because of the way I grew up, and because of the world I grew up in, instead of honoring and respecting wealth, what I honor and respect is hard work, and responsibility. Those are the values that most of us grew up with."

Edwards believed the problems with the American economy were because the president didn't understand what the rest of the public understood. He said the country could not continue on the same path - losing three million jobs in the last two years - and continue with Bush's "jobless economic recovery."

"A job is more than a paycheck - it is about self-worth and dignity," he said.

Two issues Edwards would address as president would be to create a fair trade economy and change the corporate tax code. Edwards would encourage companies to locate factories to communities hit hardest by closures, adding that incentive programs with startup seed money and tax breaks would create new jobs. At the same time, Edwards would establish corporate responsible policies, including closing overseas tax shelters and keeping corporations from raiding worker pensions, as well as addressing the growing gap between worker and CEO compensation.

On education, Edwards said Bush's No Child Left Behind was under-funded by over $10 billion and didn't address the fundamental problem with education in America.

"We still have two public school systems in America," he said. "One for the haves and one for the have-nots. You live in an affluent community? The odds are your child can get a pretty good public school education. If you don't, the odds go down dramatically. What is he going to do about it? Nothing ... it's nothing but a political slogan. I would have no chance of being here today without great teachers, and a great public school system."

Instead, Edwards would fully fund special education mandates and lead a national initiative to increase teacher pay. He said he would also reward teachers with bonuses and sponsor a scholarship program to encourage placement of teachers in areas where they were needed most.

Edwards called health care "a critical issue" and promoted three simple ideas to fix the problem. Guaranteeing health care as "a birth right" would be a start, he said. Tax credits for families with high premiums and curbing the cost of prescriptions and insurance companies would also be sponsored.

"The cost of health care in America it is completely out of control," he said. "And the reason is exactly what most of you think: The HMOs, the insurance companies, the big drug companies have a strangle-hold on Washington, D.C. I have seen it up close. There are more lobbyists for those industries than people who live in my hometown."

But at least two major health care issues were ignored by the candidate Wednesday: Medicinal marijuana use and tort reform.

A small group of protesters, including advocates of marijuana usage, complained about the candidate's reported lack of sympathy towards people with severe illnesses.

Aaron Houston, a member of Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, said Edwards wanted to jail seriously ill patients who might be using marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of their treatments. Edwards' wife Elizabeth later talked to Houston and others about the issue, while staffers attempted to get the protesters to leave and later, blocked their signs from the view of cameras and attendees.

"[Edwards] would not change the law," Houston said. "If he says he won't jail seriously ill patients ... sure, we'll leave."

Another protester was dressed up in a shark suit - a disguised reference to Edwards' career as a malpractice lawyer which has earned him millions of dollars from class-action lawsuits.

No comments: