CLINTON — U.S. Sen. John Kerry did not physically make it to Clinton Tuesday, but instead delivered his message by phone to more than 100 Iowa firefighters and their families at the Best Western Frontier.

Kerry, D-Mass., had been scheduled to address the Iowa Association of Professional Firefighters at its 87th Annual Convention, but had to stay in Washington, D.C., because several votes were scheduled at the last minute.

Kerry’s only attempt at humor was when he told the group they were lucky to be in Clinton.

“We’ve had day after day of rain,” he said. “If you look at the irony, the FEMA offices are being flooded.”

The rest of his 15-minute address was serious, touching on the issues of Iraq, health care, rising fuel costs, truth in government and global warming.

Kerry thanked the group for the support of the troops in Iraq and the “Operation Helmet” program. The operation supplied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with helmet liners that help protect them from head injuries.

“The tragedy is that the greatest nation on earth does not provide the best equipment for the fighting men and women,” Kerry said. “Your Operation Helmet has filled a lot a gaps… and we are very grateful to you.”

Kerry talked about funding cuts for fire equipment and personnel.

“The fact is, nearly five years after Sept. 11… even as we are reminded day in and day out that we are at war, our country faces a dangerous preparedness gap.”

He said the current administration has slashed funding for 50 percent of the fire grants.

“Before opening the firehouses in Baghdad, we ought to finish the job of funding our firehouses in the United States of America.”

In the area of insurance, Kerry informed the group that the earlier someone retires, the farther away they are from Medicare.

“You’ve got a lot of retired public safety officers who are spending 80 percent of their pension checks on health insurance,” Kerry related. “I think that’s wrong and I’m supporting legislation that… would help provide retired public safety officers health insurance and allow them to go to a fund that would allow them up to $5,000 for health care premiums without any taxes on those funds.”

Kerry talked about ideas — good and bad — but one of his ideas is for “people in public life telling the American people the truth — all the time,” he said.

“The American people are owed it and we’ve seen time after time in the last year whether they are reports on scientific studies or on weapons of mass destruction and other things, where Washington has not been straight with the American people.

“Fire the incompetent people and hold Energy independence was another topic.

“Farmers all across Iowa could grow a lot more corn we could use for fuels. Did you know one week of Iraq… would pay for putting an ethanol gas pipe in every station in America? I’d rather see America be energy-dependent on homegrown fuel than on Saudi sheiks to supply the security of the United States.”

According to Kerry, 48 million people in America don’t have health care. He says that’s wrong.

“One of the biggest ideas of all that we should embrace is that every single American be able to have health care that is affordable and accessible.”

Global warming is another issue Kerry feels strongly about.

“Fourteen years ago George Bush thought it was important to do something about global warming. Fourteen years later we’re going backwards and the problem with global warming in growing worse.

“The fact is we have to do something about it, we have to do something for future generations,” he continued. “We need to protect our habitat.”

Kerry had one final request.

“This is a moment of great challenge for our country and the absence of leadership is costing our nation huge opportunity costs for the next generation. We need your help. That’s our mission. We need to get off our rear ends and make it right today. If we do that we’ll earn the respect of the next generation.”

Following the address, Mike McQuistion, president of the Clinton Firefighters Local 609, told the Clinton Herald he was disappointed when he found out Kerry was unable to attend.

“But that’s the business,” McQuistion said. “It comes with his job and at least he was gracious enough to call us and give us his words of wisdom.”

McQuistion said the firefighters have backed Kerry ever since his 2004 presidential campaign for president. “We’ll back his political career for as long as we can.”

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