John Willoughby: ‘I will never betray my personal values or principles for political favor’

Conservative Republican candidate responds to 'Elephant in the Room' column

Steve Jackson

Elephant in the Room
with Steve Jackson

In my column, “Chastising moderates within the Republican Party driving away independents,” I criticized a comment by Conservative Republican John Willoughby, who is running for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District seat. I then had a conversation with him, the contents of which gave me a little more insight into his character and the extent of his views. We had a back-and-forth dialogue similar to some of the ones I’ve had with other Conservative Republicans. I thought his point was well made and I admire his refusal to budge from his principles, even if I don’t agree with them or find them politically advantageous. Here is the original comment, along with our dialogue, which Willoughby so graciously agreed to share in publication for The Hawaii Independent. 

John Willoughby’s original message to his supporters on Facebook: “Progressives like Megan McCain (on The O’Reilly Factor last night) in the GOP are flourishing. Like Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Republican National Convention, I reject Progressives and their surrogates who say we must broaden the base of our party, when they seemingly wish to blur the differences between our opponents and us in order to make us more like them. We must resist this strategy, but instead ...‘raise a banner of bold, unmistakable colors with no pastel shades.’”

Steve Jackson: Thumbs down ... how do you expect to win an election in this moderate state without expanding the base? You need those “Progressives in the GOP” if you’d like to win.

John Willoughby: Well Steven, that’s [moderate Republican candidate] Ramsay Wharton‘s strategy. Quite frankly, it’s a viable one. But I won’t have anything to do with it. Too many “so-called Conservatives” try to win by sacrificing Conservative values. Ramsay may very well win the primary by running as a Progressive, but then why would the Dems vote for “Mazie Lite” in November when they already have full strength Mazie? As for me, if I lose because I stick to my values, I will sleep like a baby election night.

Steve Jackson: Running on your values is fine, and admirable ... Attacking Republicans who don’t share all of them is not. I don’t always agree with all of the “Conservative values” candidates, but I don’t have a problem voting for them as long as they are open and accepting.

Limiting the spectrum to one type of voter who must think like you seems close-minded and discredits the good aspects of their beliefs—ones that you seek to represent.

John Willoughby: Well Steven, that’s why there’s a Chocolate and a Vanilla. And since when is describing the strategy of an opponent considered “attacking Republicans”?

Steve Jackson: In your original message, you bashed “Progressives like Megan McCain in the GOP.” You denounced the notion to “broaden the base of our party.” Your talk of resisting that strategy seems counterproductive as a politician and uninspiring to a Republican.

John Willoughby: As I’ve said from the very beginning, I am not a politician and will not tell someone what they want to hear simply to “inspire” them to vote for me, and then betray their trust at the very first opportunity. Integrity matters. Character matters. Truth matters. Trust matters. I will never betray my personal values or principles for political favor. Period. 

If you consider what I wrote as “bashing,” I’d like to invite you to spend a couple of days with me to hear some of the things my opponent says about me! 

I simply made an observation that Megan McCain (and my opponent Ramsay Wharton) are one type of Republican, and I am another. September 18 will reveal which type appeals to Hawaii voters. And you may find it very interesting (in light of your suggestion that I should not stay true to my Conservative values) that my opponent Ms. Wharton started out her campaign as a Progressive, pro-Choice, pro-civil union candidate and is now claiming she is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-family values in order to court what you describe as “close-minded” Conservatives. That’s not broadening the base ... it’s just plain deceitful.

No sir. I absolutely will not subscribe to your strategy of sacrificing my values and those of my supporters in order to curry the favor of Progressives.

Steve Jackson: Mr. Willoughby, no one made an attempt to coerce you to sacrifice your values. I’m only saying that your rejection of “Progressives” as you call them seems close-minded. 

It would be refreshing for another type to be able to accept others, to give people in the Republican Party the opportunity to vote for you, based on your character and stance, rather than as a result of an attack on Republicans who aren’t Conservative enough.

There is no proposal of a strategy to sacrifice your values; there is a proposal to stop burning bridges with people with like-minded philosophies who are willing to help. 

I noticed your picture of great Republican leaders ... Abraham Lincoln is my favorite. If you don’t remember, his house-divided speech was originally a warning for the fledgling Republican Party when they lost to Andrew Jackson. He argued that a refusal to accept differing principles within the party did damage to the overall good of the nation and party when Whigs failed to become politically relevant. 

Again, I’m not suggesting you sacrifice your principles ... I made that clear in my second response when I said that “running on your values is fine and admirable.” I’m asking that you restrain yourself and show respect when speaking about people who might have been willing to support you.

If I lose because I stick to my values, I will sleep like a baby election night.

John Willoughby: I disagree with you in the strongest possible terms. (But as I said, that is why we have primary elections. It allows us to make our views known to you, the voter, so you can make the best, most informed possible decision to select a candidate who reflects your values, beliefs, and lifestyles. It stands to reason that I will not gain all solid Conservative voters with Christian values simply because I share those values, just as Ramsay Wharton will not get the support of all Progressives simply because she reflects theirs. 

My “rejection” of Progressives like Megan McCain is based on the fact that they don’t speak for a vast majority of the Republican Party. The ones that are openly Progressive (like McCain) don’t run for office as Progressives because they know (as she said during the interview with O’Reilly) that they can’t win as Progressives. So the ones who do run, run as Conservative Republicans, then they change their stripes and often vote against the wishes of their Conservative base once they are into office.

The Republican Party is then ‘stuck’ with these office holders until a true Conservative steps forward to challenge them, as we’ve seen in this season’s Primaries. When the Progressives lose, they show their true colors and bolt from the Republican Party as we’ve seen time after time. Those Sir, are not the values and principles of Conservative Republicans I respect ... Republicans like Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and, yes, Abraham Lincoln.

You suggest that I should “restrain myself and show respect ...” Sir, I am perfectly capable of restraint and respect. I, however, see these two traits (and the need in this particular case to treat them) as mutually exclusive. I absolutely respect the views of my opponents (and quite frankly, sir, understand them much more than you give me credit for). I simply believe and communicate to “people who might (or might not) have been willing to support (me),” that they do not reflect the views of a vast majority of Hawaii voters, especially Republicans.

In my humble opinion, and I echo the sentiments of Gov. Linda Lingle, “they are just wrong.” That’s why I’m running for office in the first place. And as I wrote above, if I lose this election because I wear my values on my sleeve, I will live proudly with that for the rest of my life, but I will never sacrifice them for political gain.

And despite your assertions above, I feel I have displayed incredible restraint despite continual mischaracterizations, subterfuge, and outright lies from my opponent’s staff and supporters throughout this campaign. My response to those attacks has been to continue to express my message and desire to return to solid Conservative values, which ever so occasionally, brings a response such as yours. I respect your opinions and you taking the time to express them ... though I don’t agree with your reasoning. That is why I have not ignored your thoughtful posts, but have taken the time to address them despite the likelihood that you will support me.

Principles and values are what matter most to the good people I hear from every day. They sincerely believe that if an office holder will not stay true to his or her own values, how can voters be expected to stay true to theirs? I am being consistently told by a ratio of 20-to-1 to stay true to mine. If I were to subscribe to your philosophy of being “open and accepting” to every small, “get in your face advocacy” group, (such as pro-partial birth abortion, pro-civil union, pro-same sex marriage, pro-repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, pro-repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, etc.) I may as well run as a Democrat. After all, that is their philosophy ... Their strength is in numbers ... They are “accepting” of every other advocacy group and point of view as long as you’ll accept theirs. Shoot, we even have Democratic State legislators who have convicted felons and child molesters on their staffs who are allowed to make deals with fellow Democratic lawmakers if they will look the other way.

No, Steven, with all due respect, I’ll just continue to do what I’ve been doing and let the chips fall.

Steve Jackson: Well, thank you for your response. I believe you’re correct that you should try to promote your values. I also like that you are staying positive and have been respectful in your stance. I don’t agree with you ... but I may end up supporting you. I like your honesty and willingness to debate. I’ll see what kind of negativity Ramsay Wharton is throwing at you, I haven’t seen much but I probably haven’t been looking hard enough. I can support a candidate like you, as begrudging as I am on some of your opinions. I’ll continue to follow both candidate’s public announcements and campaigns to see who I think is the stronger candidate. Thanks again for your honest debate.