Being an elected official from Hawaii, State Rep. Chris Lee (D-51) knows the importance and value of the Jones Act, the nation’s freight cabotage law.
“We have to speak in values,” Lee explained to the MTD Executive Board on March 10. “In Hawaii, for example, we cannot do without the Jones Act – without federal support, which is actually the single biggest pillar of our economy. You have to double down on the values that we share, because it’s investing in people and workers and health care and benefits. It’s investing in American workers and American jobs. That’s what the Jones Act itself is all about.”
Lee stated he deeply appreciates the dependability of American-flag ships with American crews.
“We need, not only for ourselves but for the security of everybody else in our state, some sort of reliable and dependable source of transport for everything that we need to survive. There’s nothing more important than that. That is why when it comes to the Jones Act, we cannot compromise.”
The assistant majority leader for the Hawaii House of Representatives cited the need for investment in U.S. maritime infrastructure: “It’s a conversation that absolutely has to happen…. National security means robust maritime capacity.”
Lee also called for unity and said that while certain issues may come off as Democrat versus Republican, they are really things that affect all Americans.
“What we see is that we’re not divided by ideology most of the time. We’re divided by education on these critical issues,” he said. For instance, Lee cited a 2016 survey that revealed many Americans across the country believe 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The actual figure is less than one percent.
“But it’s at the top of everybody’s hit list,” he continued. “If people understood what these things meant … and we were able to articulate this in a way that is relevant for them, it would change that discussion. It would change the perspective the public has, and the response to attacks that are made on these things. Foreign aid, Food for Peace, just along with the stick side of our national defense, is the carrot. These things work hand in hand. They give us the tools we need to go out in the world and fight the fights and win the victories we need to survive. If we lose these things, we’re only hurting ourselves.”
The state lawmaker said it’s also important to build the base of support, and credited unions in that regard. But he encouraged allies to frame the discussion not only in statistical terms, but also in humanitarian ones.
He concluded by emphasizing that the maritime trades are “absolutely necessary to national security. We need only educate people about them.”