True friend of Marshalls

Oregon native Loyd Henion during a visit to Majuro in early January this year. Photo: Wilmer Joel.
Oregon native Loyd Henion during a visit to Majuro in early January this year. Photo: Wilmer Joel.

WILMER JOEL

A man’s ambition for equality for citizens of the freely associated states (FAS) in the US has opened numerous opportunities for them through successful lobbying for legislative bills to be passed.

Loyd Henion, 84, a retired economist and now senior lobbyist for the COFA Alliance National Network (CANN), is from Oregon.

CANN is a nonprofit organization based in Oregon that was established in 2014 to represent the interests of the people from the three Pacific Island nations that have special agreements or treaties with the United States through the Compact of Free Association: Palau, RMI, and FSM.

Loyd was raised in Jefferson on a farm with his parents, who raised cows for beef and milk, corn, carrots, and peppermints. His parents were Lester Charles and Alice Benight Henion.

He is the first in his family to graduate from college with a degree in economics from Portland State. He moved to Washington State for graduate school, completing all but his PhD dissertation.

Loyd found a 30-year career as an economist with the Oregon Department of Transportation, where he started a program for trucks to pay their fair share by weight and miles traveled, which earned him a national recognition.

Before his father passed away from cancer at the age of 86, he promised to keep his mother on the farm instead of sending her to a nursing home. As his mother grew older, he said it became more difficult to take care of her. Looking for someone to look after his mother, he placed an ad in the local newspaper.

A Marshallese woman by the name of Camilla Tarkwon responded to the ad and offered to take care of Loyd’s mother. Curious about Camilla’s background and heritage, he did extensive research on her home island, where he said he discovered the significance of the Compact agreement and the tragedy of the nuclear test history.

Because of how well she looked after his mother, Loyd said he took Camilla and her husband Ted as family members. “If you know one Marshallese, you know a thousand,” he said in an interview with the Journal during a visit to Majuro earlier in January to attend the swearing in for the new Nitijela and election of the President.

Camilla cared for Loyd’s mother, Alice, until her death at 97. Loyd had the chance to repay Camilla’s kindness through action responding to the US Real ID Act of 2005 that had unintended, but seriously negative consequences for Marshallese and other FAS citizens living in the US. The act restricted FAS citizens to one-year temporary licenses and made it harder for them to get bank accounts, loans, apartments, and jobs.

Camilla mentioned the issue to Loyd and asked him to do something about it. He promised to resolve the issue using his transportation lobbying experience.

In 2014, COFA residents living in Oregon received full-term eight-year driver licenses thanks to a bill that Loyd and the CANN organization helped work on with local legislators and advocates. This was a major breakthrough for what was to come.

Over the next 10 years, Loyd and other CANN lobbyists, including David Anitok, the current Member of Parliament for Ailuk, Kianna and Jesper Angelo, Chris Ogo, and others, lobbied for bills to pass that would help the FAS citizens in the United States. Among these benefits approved in Oregon are dental care, food stamps, Medicaid, and the opportunity to become law enforcement officers. According to Loyd, most of the bills were passed unanimously.

He added that although it took a lot of lobbying to attain these benefits, FAS citizens’ stories and experiences helped legislators understand their needs and were instrumental in getting the bills passed.

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