How Uber can help the GOP gain control of the cities

By Grover G. Norquist and Patrick Gleason
July 7, 2014

Taxi drivers protest against transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft along with Assembly Bill 2293 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California

Republicans occupy the governor’s mansion in a majority of states and control both chambers of state legislatures where a majority of Americans live. In a country that is becoming more urban, however, Democrats have a major advantage: Their party runs most big U.S. cities. Of the 15 largest U.S. cities, only two — San Diego and Indianapolis — have Republican mayors, and 13 of the 15 have Democratic-controlled city councils.

Yet despite the Democrats’ urban dominance, cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.

Democrats are facing a tough choice. A big part of their base is the unions now facing off against such disruptive innovations as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and charter schools. Do Democrats support the regulations pushed by taxi and other unions that help to protect the status quo but can also stifle competition? Or do they embrace innovative technologies and businesses that expand transportation options, create jobs and are increasingly welcomed by another key Democratic constituency: urban dwellers, particularly young urban dwellers?

Transportation app Uber driver Shuki Zanna waits for rides in his limousine in Beverly HillsConsider Uber, the popular ride-sharing service just valued at $18 billion. The news has been filled recently with stories about how state and local governments are dealing with this disruptive business. Ridesharing companies are the focus of legislative and regulatory officials in Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, Boston, Pittsburgh and other cities across the country. June began with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration sending a cease and desist letter to Uber and ended with Washington taxi union members protesting the competition.

Many of these innovative new businesses were birthed in California’s Bay Area, a Democratic stronghold. They are favorites of city dwellers, which means most of the leading Democratic constituencies — including educated professionals, gays, minorities, single women and working mothers.

This puts Democratic politicians in an awkward position because influential stakeholders like taxi commissions and their unions worry about competition from these innovators. Taxi unions, for example, are often the biggest champions of the legislative and regulatory attacks against the smartphone app-based companies. And when it comes to the coalitions that make up the Democratic Party, labor unions dwarf most other competing factions in terms of political and financial strength.

Uber drivers protest against working conditions outside the company's office in Santa MonicaThough the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may gripe about the political donations from the Koch brothers and conservative groups, the fact is that labor unions remain one of the biggest forces in U.S. politics. Of the 10 companies and organizations that have spent the most on politics over the last 25 years, six are labor unions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which shows disclosed and direct campaign contributions. While corporate America funnels cash to both Republicans and Democrats, unions still largely support Democrats.

This fight also extends to Airbnb, which was recently valued at $10 billion. Amid much talk of forgone hotel tax revenue, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed Airbnb officials last October, seeking information about New Yorkers who are renting out their apartments or spare rooms on the website. Schneiderman’s targeting of Airbnb must have been welcomed by the Hotels Trades Council, which has long supported him.

Airbnb and the state of New York reached a settlement in May, in which Airbnb will turn over anonymous information about its hosts in Gotham. The attorney general can use this information to determine if any people are operating what amounts to an illegal hotel or failing to pay applicable hotel taxes. Schneiderman can then request identities of any Airbnb users he believes to be breaking the law.

The head of the local hotel workers union in San Francisco has referred to Airbnb as a “threat to good union jobs.” There is an effort underway there to pass a measure that would hamper the room-sharing company.

Jeff Landon shows his support as Lyft ride-sharing supporters rally at City Hall in SeattleBut this effort may well be going against public opinion. A recent poll of San Francisco residents, conducted on behalf of Airbnb found 69 percent support legalizing short-term apartment rentals.

So who will Democratic politicians side with — unions, who see danger in disruptive businesses, or popular share-economy companies? Progressives have already shown a willingness to take positions that hurt segments of their base at the behest of unions. This was on display in the fight over Washington public schools. The education voucher program has been extremely popular with parents because it has allowed thousands of children from low-income households to escape failing schools. Yet President Barack Obama allowed the program to expire. It took the efforts of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to save it.

Liberal and progressive resistance to Uber and its ilk isn’t just about money; it’s also ideological. Though share-economy businesses’ like Airbnb, TaskRabbit and Uber use innovative technology to more efficiently, conveniently and cost-effectively meet demand, many could find them disconcerting on principle.

Salon recently published an article, “Libertarians’ anti-government crusade: Now there’s an app for that,that paints share-economy startups as some limited government conspiracy because — gasp — they seek to turn a profit. The nature of these businesses may indeed disturb progressives who prefer a unionized labor force, along with top-down, centralized economic models and policies.

Startup leaders speak on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 in San FranciscoAs of last year, for the first time since the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project began keeping track, the majority of American adults now have a smartphone that is the basis for so many of these new peer-to-peer businesses and startups. The share economy is not going anywhere. So Democrats, given the makeup of their coalition, face some serious issues.

Politically, this presents an opportunity for Republicans to make a comeback in cities. By championing the often disruptive share-economy businesses, defending them against the status quo and focusing their political campaigns on these issues, the GOP can show it is the party that embraces companies that improve the quality of life in cities.


PHOTO (TOP): Taxi drivers protest against transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft along with Assembly Bill 2293 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California, June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

PHOTO (INSERT 1): An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, California, December 19, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

PHOTO (INSERT 2): George, 35, protests with other commercial drivers with the app-based, ride-sharing company Uber against working conditions outside the company’s office in Santa Monica, California, June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

PHOTO (INSERT 3): Jeff Landon (L) shows his support as Lyft ride-sharing supporters rally at City Hall in Seattle, Washington February 12, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

PHOTO (INSERT 4): Moderator Alexia Tsotsis (L-R), Nate Blecharczyk of Airbnb, Leah Busque of TaskRabbit, Brit Morin of Brit & Co., and John Zimmer of Lyft speak on stage during day one of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 event at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse in San Francisco, California, September 10, 2012. REUTERS/Stephen Lam


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Interesting perspective. Yes, young urban dwellers embrace disruptive technology and like the services provided by them that are superior to sclerotic structures often dominated by Democratic Party union allies. BUT, the techie urban young will NOT embrace the culture wars waged by GOP reactionaries. The techies don’t want old men in corrupt unions cramping their lifestyle, and they also don’t want old men telling them they can’t get birth control, an abortion, or enter same-sex relationships.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive

With friends like Grover, Uber, AirBnb, lyft will have very short shelf lives. Just as we always knew, these “feel good” cos. are phony fronts for the neoliberal slavery economy. But invest now neoliberals.

Posted by rbscreen | Report as abusive

**they also don’t want old men telling them they can’t get birth control, an abortion, or enter same-sex relationships.**

So laughable, as always. Those “old men” are just saying you shouldn’t have the government pay for your birth-control or call your same-sex relationship a marriage. That’s all.

Posted by Pauli67 | Report as abusive

What young urban dwellers REALLY want is better PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION which costs a fraction of Uber. Too bad Conservatives are against ALL public transportation.

Posted by jswarren | Report as abusive

Me too…I ate one sour too…

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

I think the writer sets up a straw-man and confuses cause with effect, in the process misunderstanding his opponent.

“The nature of these businesses may indeed disturb progressives who prefer a unionized labor force, along with top-down, centralized economic models and policies.”

I don’t think that anyone inherently cares about centralised economic models. A more salient point which you only just miss is that this is just a conflict of interests within the democrat base. Unions, representing the working class, tend to support the democrats, who in turn need their members for votes. No one has an ideological problem with disruptive technologies, but for every disruptive technology, there’s a unionised industry which opposes it. The unions, who (by design) have a large voice, appear to speak for the democrat base. However, as you point out, they do not. The reaction to such services are because people fear for their jobs, not because it represents efficiency and democrats just straight out hate “old-school capitalism”.

This seems to be a common right wing fantasy, and is just one manifestation of peoples inability to understand the motivations of opponents. To spell it out: Group A fear for their jobs so they campaign against it, this results in a less efficient market. Opponents of group A (group B) assume this was their motivation all along and lambast them. In return, group A assume that group B don’t care at all for group A’s jobs.

Posted by Jondea | Report as abusive

No elected official or public action should contain any concern for all the stakeholders combined, let alone any particular ones. Let them own, rent, or swell their stakes for what they can get, it is contrary to the public interest AND to the Constitution to give a damn.

If it does not defend the Constitution and internal law and justice, or serve the general welfare, it should have no public agency, legislative, executive, judicial, or financial or tax connection to government whatsoever.

Quite a few creative and implausible things arguably fit within the mission of public action and agency, but preserving the value of stakes and the wellbeing of stakeholders are not on the list.

Posted by johnwerneken | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, none of this will matter. Urban population centers are dominated by insular minority factions the GOP has long ago abandoned even trying to win. The defection of the Dixie-Crats to our column, completed in the ’70s, made us feel so secure in our electoral chances that Republican messaging operations all but gave up attempting to court minority voters or address minority issues.

Though the original contentious issues of the Civil Rights Era that found the GOP on the wrong side for minorities are long gone (e.g., forced busing, et cetera) the flip was so complete for states-rights-oriented Democrats (many of whom were vile racists)that the Black community completely forgot that Republicans were essential in passing the Civil Rights Act in the first place, that we’re the party of Lincoln and Booker T. Washington, and the party who supported black laborers against racist white labor unions, and Republican leaders have done very little to remind them of these facts ever since.

Sure, Republican leaders will bluster when the left uses the charge of racism as a political cudgel for everything from tax policy to their position on BPA plastics, but come election day, minority communities get plenty of knocks on their door from canvassers of the liberal persuasion, but none from Republicans. This is both idiotic and suicidal politically. The result has been that even though blacks are disproportionately in agreement with a huge number of conservative positions (especially in the social sphere), none of those positions are ever represented in the politicians they elect. Why? It costs those politicians nothing to defy their constituents on any issue (e.g., abortion, school choice, the estate tax), but costs them dearly in caucus positions, chairmanships, and funding to defy the party line on those matters. Who else are their constituents going to vote for? The racist white guy across the aisle? It doesn’t matter if it’s slanderously untrue, because, from the perspective of the black voting population, the charge goes entirely unanswered if the GOP only runs ads on tractor TV in rural Wyoming.

Even if you’re a liberal, the effect this racial polarization has had on the black community, systematically ensuring that their elected officials are less responsive, because they lose nothing by ignoring their constituents inclinations, should be seen for the tragedy it is.

Posted by Vinminen | Report as abusive

Grover – you are a nut bag!! A political party doesn’t gain control – it is voted in. Oh, excuse me that’s the democracy I was taught in Grade School.

Grover’s democracy is something that can be controlled. Just a bit of money here, a bit of money there and some dirty campaigning and viola – the party is in control.

Odd, this sounds more like “the party” in the book 1984. I hope our youth are smart enough to figure you out. A power hungry ass hole.

Posted by michaelryan | Report as abusive

Lower rates of pay for cab drivers are not exactly a selling point for the GOP or anyone else – the Uber platform will find equilibrium with local markets but is unlikley to control strong market share in the long run if unlicenced and unsafe drivers are the primary providers who choose to use it.

Posted by DonD1977 | Report as abusive

Let’s not forget the open-ended “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” rights we feel are one of the freedoms worth defending with all our guns. Freedom to ‘share a ride’ for a price or take a professional higher cost taxi. Freedom to not worry how our fellow American makes his money. Freedom to not agree to better public transportation. Freedom for safe roads….whatever and etc etc. Expecting any one party or the other to fix a fundamentally & existentially American attitude is irrational. A majority of Americans need to realize the need to move forward and these squabbles are a footnote in history.

Posted by euro-yank | Report as abusive

Its official, the wingnuts support the Goldman Sachs-fueled lawless takeover of local taxi markets by corporate conglomerates. BTW, did you notice he didn’t identify any city with a functioning “taxi union”? That’s because there is no such thing anywhere in this country.

Posted by dougiewil74 | Report as abusive

Grover and his minion are attempting to create another GOPer myth. Just like “the GOP is fiscally responsible”, now he also wants you to believe the GOP is for disruptive technologies. That one seems extremely false, as we know that the GOPers are beholden to the vested interests more than even the DFL. They have no intention of ever allowing a free market or a merit based society. Creeps like Grover would themselves be paupers in a merit based society as they have no real value to anyone except those that want to brainwash and confuse the weak minded followers of ideology. I would say this is a stupid attempt by a stupid man, which is true, but it may also succeed since the bulk of american morons are extremely dumb and might find this to be reasonable given the limitations on their thought processes. The GOP in no way wants disruptive technologies, however, the american people just might believe they do, since they are capable of believing many lies and/or are willing to go along with dishonesty if they can get paid for their participation. Between the dishonest participators and the true morons who believe all kinds of dumb things, you just might get the majority of americans to believe that the GOP is for new disruptive technologies. Of course, this is an analysis that can be apply to the majority of the GOP platform. Fiscally responsible? No, not really, but between the morons and the minions, the majority agree. Pro freedom? No, not really, but between the morons and the minions, the majority agree. Pro constitution, No, not really, but between the morons and the minions the majority agree. And so on.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive