Edwards stops in Seminole on bus tour through Oklahoma

Friday, November 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEMINOLE, Okla. (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards sat down Friday with the working class in this small town, promising to fight for business owners and laid-off workers across America.

Edwards, on his 10th campaign visit to Oklahoma, took off his tie to talk with about 50 residents in a small room at Seminole State College.

The stop was part of bus tour that began Friday morning in Idabel, included coffee and conversation in Durant and will wrap up Saturday night at a Western Sizzlin' in Sallisaw.

``Oklahoma is very important to me,'' said the North Carolina senator, who previously campaigned at a tailgate party before a University of Oklahoma football game and a Democratic forum at Oklahoma State University. ``The values of the people of Oklahoma are my values.''

The Sooner State has had a flurry of presidential candidates this year because state lawmakers voted to move up the primary election. Oklahoma is now one of seven states holding a primary Feb. 3.

Edwards, a 20-year trial lawyer, told the Seminole crowd he could relate to the town's economic problems. His father worked in a textile mill that closed and moved to Mexico.

``When the mill closed, it was devastating to our community,'' Edwards said.

Seminole lost more than 600 jobs when VF Corp. announced last summer it would close its plant, just down the road from where Edwards spoke.

``We need to give companies a reason to stay here and keep their jobs here,'' Edwards said, promising tax breaks for American companies who move plants to towns that have lost jobs. ``I want to make sure we're doing our best to bring jobs to communities so people can live where they've lived all their lives.''

Edwards said he supports giving ``seed money'' to business owners who want to create ``real jobs with real benefits.'' He also supports tax breaks for small business owners willing to offer their employees health care benefits.

The senator said the country's health care system is in crisis and that he wants an affordable prescription drug program for seniors.

Edwards' education plan calls for free college tuition at state universities or two-year colleges for the first year for students willing to work part time.

He said he does not support the unfunded mandates of President Bush's ``No Child Left Behind'' plan, which sets standards students must meet before continuing to the next grade. Edwards wants a national initiative to increase teacher pay and provide bonuses and scholarships for teachers willing to teach in poorer neighborhoods.

The country seems to have two public school systems, Edwards said.

``We've got one for the haves and we've got one for the have-nots,'' he said.

Edwards also vowed to improve the Head Start program for preschoolers and create more after-school programs.

``The government doesn't do anything more important than educate kids,'' he said.

Edwards has made similar bus tours through Iowa and New Hampshire, two other states with early primaries.