Aug 23, 2014
Candidates open to federal shipping changes
Aiona would seek an exemption to the Jones Act;
Hannemann would host talks on the issue
By Derrick DePledge
Former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona said Friday that he is open to a Hawaii exemption to the Jones Act, the federal maritime law that protects the domestic shipping industry from foreign competition, hoping that the change will help lower the state’s high cost of living. The Republican candidate for governor said he would work with Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico to urge Congress to grant states and territories exemptions to the federal law, specifically the provision that requires ships that move goods between United States ports be American made.
“It really impacts upon the issue of cost of living and what we spend here in the islands because of that particular piece of legislation,” Aiona said during a governor’s forum hosted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii at the Pacific Club.
Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the Hawaii Independent Party candidate for governor, said he has supported the Jones Act because it helps protect American jobs and preserve national security by ensuring the U.S. has a capable domestic shipping fleet.
Matson Inc., which dominates the Hawaii shipping industry, and others have argued that the federal law helps guarantee that the islands have a reliable flow of imported goods, but critics complain that a lack of competition keeps consumer prices high.
Hannemann said he is willing to have a discussion about a Jones Act exemption. “I think that’s part of being a leader,” he said. “You never shut down ideas from those that may oppose how you feel. And that’s one of the lessons learned that I’ve had through the years. You can feel passionately about something, but you always have to be open to having that discussion.”
The 90-minute forum, moderated by Kelii Akina, president and chief executive officer of the Grassroot Institute, a conservative-to-libertarian research group, was initially billed as the first debate among the candidates for governor after the primary.
But state Sen. David Ige, the Democratic nominee, withdrew. In a letter to the Grassroot Institute on Wednesday, Ige said he did not agree that the group would record the forum and “distribute it as we see fit.”
While the group clarified that the forum would be posted on its website in its entirety, Ige said he had already accepted another invitation for Friday.
Ige’s withdrawal was a surprise since he had clamored for debates with Gov. Neil Abercrombie before the primary. The state senator also criticized the governor for withdrawing from three of four debates hosted by AARP Hawaii.
“When the public was finally afforded a chance to hear from all of the gubernatorial candidates, it’s a pity that Ige backed out because he wanted complete control over the interpretation of his messaging,” Pat Saiki, the state GOP chairwoman, said in a statement. “Is this the quality of transparency and openness we can expect to see from the Democrat candidate?”
But Aiona and Hannemann did not take the opportunity of Ige’s absence to mark many concrete policy differences with the Democrat, or with each other. Both candidates often answered questions in broad themes, rather than specifics, and offered few new policy ideas from their unsuccessful campaigns for governor four years ago.
Aiona and Hannemann both said they were open to discussing term limits for the state Legislature. Aiona said he would consider providing parents with vouchers so they could have the choice of public or private schools for their children, while Hannemann said vouchers would present complications, such as whether students would be evaluated based on public or private school standards and whether private schools would have to publicly disclose finances.
Both candidates said they would wait for consensus from the Native Hawaiian community before committing to a specific path for a new Hawaiian government.
Hannemann said that he would order a management audit of the state Department of Taxation. He also said he would attempt to restore inter-island ferry service.
Aiona said government should “get out of the way and let business do its thing.” He said he would streamline the permitting process and have a trigger for automatic permit approval if a review exceeds a set time period.
Both candidates pledged not to raise the general excise tax, the largest source of state revenue. Aiona said he would also oppose an extension or expansion of a GET surcharge on Oahu that is financing the city’s rail project. Hannemann said he would end the practice of the state taking a portion of the GET surcharge on Oahu for administrative purposes.
Jeff Davis, a solar contractor and radio show host who is the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, blamed both Democratic and Republican administrations for the problems facing Hawaii, including the high cost of electricity, struggling public schools, and the rise of homelessness. He said change would not happen as long as the “status quo” remains in political power.
Davis was also critical of the news media for largely ignoring his candidacy.