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Columbia Missourian

Edwards speaks to enthusiastic crowd

January 29, 2008 | 7:30 p.m. CST
Presidential candidate John Edwards lists his goals for the next several years of American history while speaking to a group of supporters in Jefferson City on Tuesday. After his speech, Edwards took time to answer questions and pose for pictures before making a short presentation for the television stations covering the event.

JEFFERSON CITY — Samantha Grayson was an undecided voter before she went to a rally for presidential candidate John Edwards on Tuesday. As an office assistant at a counseling center in Jefferson City, she said the so-called health-care crisis in America is not just a story.

She sees it almost every day in her job.


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“Sometimes it’s just impossible to help everyone because they don’t have insurance or the insurance only allows so many visits for mental health,” Grayson said. “Once you use those visits you can’t charge the insurance company anymore. The only option is to pay out of pocket.

“The hardest part of the job is to turn people away and tell them we can’t help them,” she said. “A lot of people get very upset by it. I would say it’s generally disheartening for them.”

Grayson was one of about 300 people who went to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles lodge in Jefferson City to see Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, speak as part of his Missouri campaign before Tuesday’s primary election. The bingo hall, decorated with an American flag that covered the back wall, quickly filled to standing room only as songs such as “Our Country” by John Mellencamp played over the speakers.

Grayson came to the event leaning toward Edwards but was still unsure. After hearing Edwards speak, she said she absolutely would vote for him.

“I think with his plan of universal health care — it will open more opportunities and give people the option of therapy and help our field grow and help more and more people,” Grayson said.

Edwards proposes universal health care for every American and says he would pay for it by repealing Bush tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 per year.

“Health care should be a right, not a privilege for the privileged,” Edwards said.

Another undecided voter, Jefferson City resident James Johnson, brought his 4-year-old daughter with him to hear Edwards speak. Johnson also has a 15-year-old son and considers health care and education to be the most important issues in this election. After hearing what Edwards had to say, Johnson said that he was still undecided but that Edwards had a pretty good chance of winning his vote.

“He sounds good when you listen to him,” Johnson said. “If he stands by what he says he’s going to do, then he’s got my vote.”

Edwards began his speech by describing his working-class childhood, which prompted clapping, shouting and cheering from the audience. Edwards cited childhood memories of his parents and grandparents working long hours in mills as the motivation for his support of organized labor.

“Why did they do it? Why did your parents do it? To create a better life for us,” Edwards said. “It is our great moral test — our responsibility — to do what they have done.”

As president, Edwards said he would strengthen laws on collective bargaining and push the federal minimum wage to $9.50 per hour.

“I want to change laws to make it easier to organize union rights and create real democracy in the workplace,” Edwards said.

John Batye, a lifelong Columbia resident and 36-year member of the Carpenters Union Local No. 1925 Columbia, said Edwards is the best man for the job because of his blue-collar background.

“(Edwards) understands the importance of fringe benefits, pension, insurance — to have some dignity later on in life when you get to retire from the daily grind,” Batye said.

Edwards also highlighted his plan to make college available for everyone. Under Edwards’ plan, any high school graduate working at a part-time job 10 hours per week could have tuition and books paid for at a state university or community college. Edwards said he can achieve that by eliminating banks as the middle man in the student loan process.

Edwards supporter Jenny Ruhaak described Edwards as the silent underdog in the race for the Democratic nomination. Although Edwards has accumulated a handful of delegates, he has yet to win any state.

“He seems more authentic than some,” Ruhaak said. “He made some good promises, and it would be wonderful if he could achieve them.”

Edwards will continue to campaign tomorrow in New Orleans.