Jones’ing for Change

In the last four years, the Jones Act has become the punching bag for every state and county level elected official – taking advantage of public ignorance on the issue to buff their political resumes for the next election.  They have learned that the Jones Act is an easy way to win points from conservative-leaning voters.  Here is the awful truth: your state/county representative’s opinion on the Jones Act does not matter.

Much like the issue of Syrian refugees, there is nothing that you state/local officials can do about the Jones Act.  The State Legislature can introduce resolutions and hold hearings until they are blue in the face and it will not matter.  Changes to the Jones Act can only come from Congress.  If conservatives were genuinely interested in change, they would hold the feet of Hawaii’s congressional delegation (Takai, Gabbard, Hirono and Schatz) to the fire. [1]

So why would a credible publication like Pacific Business News carry a story about the Legislature looking to pass a resolution to carve out an exemption for Hawaii and other non-contiguous states and territories?

[PBN] Hawaii Shipper’s Council expects Hawaii legislature to discuss Jones Act reform next year

Courtesy Wikimedia CommonsIt’s simple: good public relations (PR).  While the news media is riddled with news of the ineptitude of the Legislature [2], elected officials will take any good PR they can get.  It is an issue that Republicans are passionate about, and even one that union-sympathetic Democrats question.  Showing strong preference toward an exemption is the public relations equivalent of saying “I like kittens”.

Of course you do too, and most people would have serious reservations about any person that does not like kittens. [3]  Support for a Jones Act exemption is a win-win for elected officials because (a) support for an exemption is widespread, and (b) their support is meaningless and will not upset any union-friendly individuals.

A wise legislator once noted “A (legislative0 resolution is not worth the piece of paper that it is written on.”  These are generally used for three purposes: 1) to state the intent or the position of the Legislature, 2) to request the formation of a committee or task force, or 3) to honor a person, individual or group. [4] While the latter of the three may be laudable, all three of those purposes do not effect any material change.

Resolutions are also generally vehicles for bills that could not or would not pass during a legislative session.  Consider, for example, a bill on homelessness.  When the bill dies, a resolution would be created that would create a “task force on homelessness”.  The resolution could then be taken back to the constituents of an elected official to say “Hey!  I worked hard on homelessness!”, when that resolution does little more than ensure that the dialog on the topic continues.  The task force only formalizes a conversation that was probably already taking place.

Given all this knowledge, it is no wonder that introduction Jones Act resolutions has become a perennial experience at the Legislature.  Below is a summary of resolutions that were introduced regarding the Jones Act for the last four years that liberal Democrats have maintained control of both chambers in the Legislature:

Year Reso/Companion Introducer
2015 SR10 / SCR34 SLOM, Galuteria, Harimoto, Inouye, Keith-Agaran, Nishihara, Rivierie, Ruderman
2014 SR45 / SCR93 SLOM
2014 HR113 / HCR153 WARD, SOUKI, Brower, Cachola, Creagan, Evans, Kobayashi
2013 SR81 / SCR117 SLOM
2013 SR20 / SCR42 SOLOMON
2012 SR11 / SLOM

Introducers of resolutions on the Jones Act fall into two categories:

  • Minority (Republican) elected officials who are unable to pass legislation against a liberal Democrat supermajority, or
  • Liberal Democrats looking to buff up their conservative credentials.

Jones Act hearings at the state and county level are a dog and pony show – a waste of time.  Incredulously, the public keeps coming back to watch.  At the end of the show, they reward the circus performers with a standing ovation.  These elected officials are being rewarded for wasting their time and the public dime that they are being paid on.  Who doesn’t want to be paid to be unproductive?

Rather than doing something symbolic, wouldn’t you rather your elected official spend their time working on something more meaningful to address the price of living in paradise?  Stop giving state and county elected officials freebies.  Stop asking them to do something about the Jones Act and instead hold your congressional delegation responsible.


[1] …and for that matter, Hawaii’s native son, President Barack Obama.

[2] Think about the Legislature deliberately withholding money from Native Hawaiians and about the large loophole that allows drunken drivers to refuse a breathalyzer test.  This is the topic for another post.

[3] Look past allergies and the unlikely event of any traumatic experience here.  They’re cute, they’re cuddly, and certifiably harmless to anything but curtains and furniture.

[4] There other smaller functions including:

  • requesting (when they cannot mandate) actions of a particular governmental or non-governmental individual, group or agency (compliance is optional and cannot be forced),
  • approval of easements or sales of state lands.

This generalization is not intended to be exhaustive, but to note the major uses.