U.S. Congressmen Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) and Brian Mast (R-Florida) have different public-speaking styles, but they offered similarly passionate messages when addressing the MTD executive board last month.
Both of them expressed strong support for the Jones Act and the U.S. Merchant Marine. They also stressed the importance of grassroots political action.
Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, spoke Feb. 21 in his typically engaging, folksy style. He said the nation’s freight cabotage law “is fine (in terms of congressional support), but you have to be vigilant.”
He then cited the misinformation campaign that happened after Hurricane Maria.
“The moment it hit, the first consideration was to relax the Jones Act, because ‘we can’t get enough goods to help the good Americans who live in Puerto Rico’. Now, if you believe that comment, I’ve got some beachfront property I want to sell you in Oklahoma,” Thompson stated. “I went to Puerto Rico three days after Hurricane Maria, and I saw stuff on the docks delivered by Jones Act vessels. The question wasn’t how you get it there. The question was, once it gets there, what are you going to do with it? [People] blamed the Jones Act for a problem that had nothing to do with it.”
Thompson also discussed his longstanding, positive working relationship with organized labor and mentioned his 100 percent labor voting record.
“It’s important for you to invest in people who will tell you the truth,” he said. “A lot of us wouldn’t be in Congress without labor’s support…. Not only do you dance with the ones who brung you, you stay with them. It’s in your best interest to help send good people to Washington – good people who don’t forget how they got there and who sent them.”
Thompson mentioned an upcoming trip he’s making to Puerto Rico and stated that, there and elsewhere in his travels, he always wants organized labor at the table.
“That’s why it’s so important for you to convince your members that they should invest in your PACs,” he explained. “Because if you don’t invest in leadership, the enemy will defeat you. When I’m in the meeting and I hear the company line, I turn to my friends in labor and say, ‘Is that right, what he’s saying?’ That’s a powerful statement, but that’s also somebody not forgetting how they got where they are.
“It’s important for you to convince your members that they have to support the political action committee, because that’s really part of your voice, and because if you cede that territory to the opposition, you’re going to have real problems,” he added.
Thompson concluded by noting that despite technological changes in the maritime industry, “Those folks who work on the docks and on the ships help keep America safe…. You are the eyes and ears that technology can never replace.”
Similarly, Mast – brimming with enthusiasm and patriotism – said of the members of MTD unions, “Without your efforts to move bulk, to push barges, to ship cargo, to move containers like the Post Office moves letters around the country … moving autos, fuel … our economy and our way of life would grind to a halt.”
He talked about trade policies and their complexities, adding, “I want equality for our country. We want free trade – we want reciprocal trade.”
Turning his attention to the Jones Act, Mast said, “Our defense and support of the Jones Act is very important to me.”
Mast, a U.S. Army veteran who earned medals including The Bronze Star Medal, The Army Commendation Medal for Valor, The Purple Heart Medal, and The Defense Meritorious Service Medal, said that when he served overseas, and for all veterans, “everything that we need to do that job – from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and all points in between – has been delivered by the trades that you all represent, the men and women you represent. If we get rid of the Jones Act, the next bit of policy, the next bit of work that you will see in the United States of America will be the United States of America’s ambassador to the UN going into the UN with his thumb in the air the next time that we’re in a conflict, saying, ‘Can I hitch a ride?’ That is not the policy we need in this country, and that is one of the most important reasons the Jones Act has to stay in place. To make sure that we are doing everything to defend our maritime industry from being destroyed.”
Like Thompson, Mast urged the MTD to “elect people who are going to listen to what you have to say.”
Mast added that policies have longreaching effects and take time to implement. He said there’s nothing wrong with honest debate and disagreement, but people should still be cordial.
He concluded, “Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep up the fight.”