Jones Act Exemption Will Lower Prices of Goods and Services in Hawaii

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BY JOHN WILLOUGHBY – Flash! The prices of goods and services are higher in Hawaii than any other state in the country.

Well, that’s not really news to anyone who lives in Hawaii. But what if we inserted the two words ‘kept artificially’ in front the word ‘higher?’ And what if the next sentence was to describe a candidate for U.S. Congress who will sponsor legislation to remove barriers that keep prices artificially higher in Hawaii?


I’m running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd District and, if elected, the very first day in office I will introduce legislation that will drastically lower the price (an estimated 22%) of virtually every good and service bought or sold in Hawaii.

First, a little background. If you were to ask anyone who lives in or visits Hawaii why prices here are the highest in the nation, they would typically answer that there are several reasons. First, we produce (locally) a very small percentage of what we consume. Secondly, we export very little. But the primary reason people would give is that it costs a lot to transport goods to Hawaii, and we transport virtually all of what we consume – not only to the Islands, but also between the Islands.

These facts accurately describe the effect (high prices), but not the cause. The remainder of this article will address that, and our solution.

Imagine if you will, Hawaii’s private sector economy as a tall three-legged wooden stool with the legs connected by supporting braces. Let’s say the seat represents the prices of goods and services, once again being kept high by the three legs.

The first leg represents the monopolistic trust of a few powerful and politically influential shipping and transportation companies such as Alexander & Baldwin’s Matson Navigation Company (who sets the costs for transportation of goods and services to and from the Mainland), Saltchuk Resources, Inc. (whose companies Young Brothers and Aloha Air Cargo determine rates for the inter-island transportation of goods and services, and who is credited in many circles for shoring up their position by helping to sink the Hawaii SuperFerry), and Hawaiian Holdings, Inc. (whose Hawaiian Airlines controls pricing of inter-island air passenger transportation).

The second leg represents Hawaii’s union leadership. Notice that I said “leadership,” because most of Hawaii’s union members are good, honest, hard-working people looking to earn an honest-day’s pay for an honest-day’s labor. Union leadership on the other hand is a de facto political action committee operating by a simple mantra – elect politicians who support the union’s goals to work as little as necessary and earn as much as possible doing it. (I’m a union member and my union’s contract and work schedule-bidding program is based on that formula.) Union leaders will make large contributions, lobby legislation and promise votes to labor friendly politicians, and negotiate contracts with their companies to achieve those goals.

The third leg represents four people – our Hawaii congressional delegation including Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, and Representative Mazie Hirono (and former Representative Neil Abercrombie). They are all responsible to ensure no legislation is advanced to “rock the stool.”

The supporting braces that hold the legs together (and will not allow the others to stray) represent the Merchant Marine Act of 1921, also known as the Jones Act. The Jones Act requires that all goods transported by sea between U.S. ports be carried on U.S. flagged ships that are constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and operated by U.S. crews. The law was designed to support the U.S. merchant marine industry. Opponents (including farms, ranches, and small businesses here in Hawaii) claim it stifles competition and increases the cost of shipping.

Though the Jones Act may find some applicability on the Mainland (and even Alaska) where there are alternate means of transporting good and services, it is an extremely unfair and business and consumer unfriendly law here in the Islands. Our obvious boundaries allow only two means of conveyance between Hawaii and the Mainland – air or sea. As oil prices rise, it becomes less economical to transport goods by air. A large percentage of our goods must be transported by sea.

And though the increasing price of oil has a debilitating effect on the price of conveyance, it is the lack of choice and competition that radically exacerbates the cost of doing business in Hawaii. These costs are further increased by unions that get what they ask for without a fight, monopolistic trusts that can simply increase their cost of doing business to offset higher costs of labor, and politicians who have received millions in campaign contributions from the unions, Alexander & Baldwin, Saltchuk, Hawaiian Holdings, et al. in exchange for maintaining the status quo.

The only way to stop the continued escalation and lower the price of virtually every good and service in Hawaii is to knock one of the legs out. As with the seat of the stool, prices will fall. We must elect representatives who are not obstructionists or loyal to special interest groups (unions and monopolistic trusts), but to the people of Hawaii.

As we all know, congressional committee assignments are based in large part on the background of the elected representative. As a commercial airline pilot for the past 12 years, I would line up for membership in the powerful House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure where legislation supporting an exemption to the Jones Act for Hawaii would be introduced, debated, and moved forward. We are already off to a good start with the election of Congressman Charles Djou who also favors exemption. With the impending large-scale change in U.S. House membership after the 2010 general election, having both Hawaii representatives co-sponsoring and fighting in favor of an exemption, advancing legislation on Hawaii’s behalf would be virtually guaranteed.

Hawaii desperately needs an exemption to the Jones Act. An exemption will allow us to lower the cost of living for our Hawaii families and the costs for farms, ranches, and small businesses to do business and export their products to the mainland. It is undeniable that an exemption will also lead to more jobs for Hawaii residents, and an increase in tax revenues to state and local governments.

Hawaii voters must elect representatives who will take this “common sense” message to Washington. A Jones Act exemption is a win/win solution that will benefit everyone in Hawaii – everyone that is, except the current legs of the stool.

John Willoughby, 51, is a Candidate for Hawaii’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District. He is a retired U.S. Navy Officer and is currently employed as a Commercial Airline Pilot with United Airlines. He and his wife Yong Hui have been married 20 years. They live on Oahu with their two sons Josh and Jeremy and their adopted daughter Su Jin is grown and lives on the Mainland. Visit his website at for more information.



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John Willoughby, a distinguished airline pilot and highly-decorated retired Navy Officer is challenging incumbent Progressive Democrat Mazie Hirono for the 2nd Congressional District seat in the 2010 General Election. John is a proponent of lower taxes, smaller government, and putting an end to an era of reckless government deficit spending. John is not a career politician, but rather a citizen seeking public office. He believes Hawaii families are ready for a Representative who is driven by what is right, guided by the Constitution, committed to unconditional Congressional accountability, and loyal to the People of Hawaii. John was born on September 23, 1958 in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother Verna was a former “Navy Wave,” homemaker and mother of six. His father Bud was a Korean War era Marine. They met and were married while both were stationed in Hawaii in the early 1950’s. They returned to Missouri where Bud worked his way through the ranks of the Kansas City Police Department. He then served as Chief of Police of the Pueblo, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah Police Departments, and was heavily involved in national law enforcement until his passing in 2004. John’s parents stressed public service, personal and financial responsibility, and accountability. After spending his elementary and junior high school years in Kansas City, John’s family moved to Colorado where he graduated from Pueblo East High School in 1976. John then enlisted in the Navy. Upon completion of his initial training, he was designated a Navy Aircrewman on the P-3 Orion and assigned to Patrol Squadron Nineteen at Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California. His squadron deployed at the height of the Cold War to Okinawa, Northern Japan, and twice to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. When he completed his four-year enlistment, John returned to Salt Lake City where he worked his way through college graduating in 1985 from the University of Utah with a Bachelors Degree in Organization Communications. He also participated in a study abroad program at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany. At the University of Utah, John affiliated with Sigma Chi Fraternity and became a lifetime member of the University of Utah Alumni Association and a “Life Loyal Sig.” Upon graduating college, John was recruited by a national grocery store chain to serve as an Assistant to the Vice-President of Human Resources. It was there he realized his true passion was to continue serving his country in the Armed Forces. He applied and was admitted to Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School where he was honored as a Distinguished Navy Graduate earning a regular commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy. He attended flight school in Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas earning his aircraft carrier landing qualification and “Wings of Gold” in 1988. John was assigned to Patrol Squadron Twenty-Two at Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii where he received his Patrol Plane Mission Commander designation. There he deployed to the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan. While stationed in Hawaii, he met and married the former Yong Hui Pak, a Hawaii resident and naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea. Before leaving Hawaii, their first son Joshua was born at Tripler Army Medical Center. John was then assigned as a flight instructor at Fleet Replacement Training Squadron Thirty-One, Moffett Field, California. He later returned to Hawaii where he was assigned to the Fleet Special Projects Patrol Unit Two, a unit assigned by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to covert special operations worldwide. Later John received orders to the U.S. Naval Air Facility Misawa, Japan as the Air Operations Officer. During his tour in Japan, his second son Jeremy was born. John left active duty in 1998 and entered the Navy Reserve where he was assigned to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Fifty-One at Kaneohe, Hawaii, then later the NATO Supreme Allied Command--Transformation, and finally Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Upon moving back to Hawaii, John and Yong Hui adopted a twelve-year old South Korean girl named Su Jin. John retired from the Navy Reserve as a Lieutenant Commander in 2006. While in the Navy and Navy Reserve, John qualified as a Plane Commander on six different aircraft. He deployed to and operated in dozens of countries in the south, western, and northern Pacific, Asia, Africa, Europe, and North, Central, and South Americas, as well as India, Australia, and Greenland. John was awarded two Air Medals for combat missions in support of United Nations Operations in Somalia for his role in real life battles that became the inspiration for the book and motion picture “Black Hawk Down,” two Navy Commendation Medals, a Navy Achievement Medal and several other medals, decorations, and commendations. He is also a lifetime member of the Association of the United States Navy and American Legion. In 1998 John was employed by United Airlines as a commercial airline pilot based at San Francisco International Airport. During his twelve years at United, John has flown over 7000 hours both domestically and internationally on the DC-10, Boeing 777, 767, and 757, and the Airbus 319 and 320 commercial aircraft. In 2001 John lost several friends and co-workers on United and American Airlines airplanes involved in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks and in the attack on the Maritime Patrol section of the Pentagon. United Airlines later sought Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection and John was furloughed from 2004-2005. He rejoined United in 2005 where he has been since. At United, John is a member of the Air Line Pilots Association, an international labor union. After spending six years in Salt Lake City caring for his ill parents, John and Yong Hui moved back to Hawaii in 2006. They and their two sons live in Honolulu where their sons attend public school--Josh at Moanalua High School, and Jeremy at Moanalua Middle School. Their daughter Su Jin is now grown and lives on the Mainland. John and Yong Hui celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in April.


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