BERLIN, N.H. (AP) – Democrat Howard Dean headed into rural, economically struggling Berlin on Friday to say he would work to undo Bush administration policies he says cost jobs and threaten to undermine the rural values that shape the nation.

Speaking to an enthusiastic lunchtime crowd at City Hall, Dean said people are leaving rural America, and places like Berlin, because they can’t find jobs.

He said it’s important to the entire country to support rural businesses.

“Rural America would be stronger and so would the country be stronger because the values of places like this are the values that are good for the rest of the country,” he said.

“Rural people work hard. They have a strong sense of community and a strong sense of family.”

The former Vermont governor said one important way to get jobs back is to repeal the Bush administration tax cuts. He said the tax cuts gave breaks to the rich with money that could be lent to small businesses; to reinvest in roads, mass transit and schools and to develop renewable energy.

He specifically mentioned projects such as improving the country’s electricity grid that would create union jobs, a detail that would not be lost in Berlin, where many residents are union members who work at the region’s paper mills.

Dean repeated his argument that any Bush cuts aimed to benefit the middle class were wiped out because of increases in local and school spending. He said the tax cuts diverted federal money from programs that could have helped communities.

He said another way to restore good-paying jobs is to make sure small businesses get help, in part through loans.

“If you want to do something for businesses that are going to stay in America and stay in rural America and help the rural economy, you ought to help small businesses, not large businesses, and we do almost nothing for small businesses,” he said.

He also would support union organizing. “When you pay your workers enough so they can spend a little money at the local store and keep the money in the economy and circulating, guess what? The economy gets better,” he said.

Dean spent most of his hour at City Hall answering questions on everything from health care to American prestige to Iraq. He said if he wins the election, as president-elect, he will head to Europe to try to improve relations with foreign leaders.

“A new president will be able to repair those relations, because these relationships are driven by bad personal relationships, which the president seems to have gone out of his way, deliberately, to create.

“As president-elect, I will go to Europe and meet with the premiers and presidents over there, and I will invite the president of Mexico and prime minister of Canada to come to Washington so we can start all over again.”

Foremost, he said he will work to built support for an international force in Iraq. “I can do that, and this president cannot,” he said.

Jacqueline Quintal, a school board member from neighboring Milan, said communities “are getting killed” by federal education programs that must be paid for with local money.

Dean agreed, and said his first budget as president would call on the federal government to send states all the money they need to pay for special education, a sore spot with many school districts, which have to boost local taxes for the federally required programs.

Many in the audience of about 100 wore Dean buttons. Quintal didn’t have one on when she walked in, but was ready to grab one on the way out.

“I didn’t sign in that I would do anything to support him until I could hear what he had to say, and if he answered questions for me that satisfied where I felt the country should be going, then I would be supporting him.”

And?

“And I support him. I think he’s got a plan. I was concerned about how he would manage because he didn’t have a lot of Washingtonian experience, but he doesn’t need that. He knows where he’s going.”

Priscilla Gemmiti, 67, of Berlin, has seen Dean twice, and likes what she hears, as far as it goes.

“I don’t hear any real, practical how do we do it answers” she said. Gemmiti said a Dean aide promised to get her more in-depth answers to issues such as, how specifically, would he get jobs to return to places like Berlin.


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