The Republican Party Loves Uber

Touting the ride-share service as a beacon of free-market innovation, Republicans launched a “support Uber” petition Wednesday.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Aug. 6, 2014, 8:37 a.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an Party is in love with Uber, and it wants to pub­licly dis­play its af­fec­tion all over the In­ter­net.

The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee blas­ted out an email Wed­nes­day en­cour­aging sup­port­ers to sign a new pe­ti­tion in sup­port of “in­nov­at­ive com­pan­ies like Uber,” a pop­u­lar ride-shar­ing ser­vice that has sprung up in more than 160 cit­ies world­wide, much to the chag­rin of more tra­di­tion­al taxi fleets.

“Our cit­ies also de­serve in­nov­at­ive, ef­fi­cient, and safe trans­port­a­tion choices without ex­cess­ive and in­trus­ive bur­eau­crat­ic red tape,” the email, which doubles as a fun­drais­ing pitch, reads. “That’s why our cit­ies need in­nov­at­ive solu­tions like the Uber car ser­vice.”

Uber al­lows those in need of a quick lift to use a mo­bile app to or­der a driver. It and sim­il­ar ride-shar­ing com­pan­ies have be­come hugely pop­u­lar among young urb­an­ites, but they are barred or re­stric­ted in a num­ber of cit­ies. Loc­al of­fi­cials in Seattle passed a law earli­er this year lim­it­ing the num­ber of al­tern­at­ive taxi drivers al­lowed on the road at any giv­en time.

Those sort of laws are de­rided in the email, writ­ten by RNC Fin­ance Dir­ect­or Katie Walsh, as at­tempts “to block Uber from provid­ing ser­vices simply be­cause it’s cut­ting in­to the taxi uni­ons’ profits.”

Wed­nes­day’s pe­ti­tion was as­sembled without Uber’s know­ledge, and the com­pany is for now choos­ing to re­main mum about the GOP’s sud­den em­brace, oth­er than to say in a state­ment: “Every­one loves Uber!”

Boast­ing the vir­tues of Uber is noth­ing new for Re­pub­lic­ans. In March, Sen. Marco Ru­bio gave a speech tout­ing the ride-share com­pany as a dis­rupt­ive tech­no­logy that shouldn’t be lim­ited by big gov­ern­ment.

“What reg­u­la­tion should nev­er be is a way to pre­vent in­nov­a­tion from hap­pen­ing,” Ru­bio, a po­ten­tial 2016 pres­id­en­tial hope­ful, said at the time. “It should nev­er al­low gov­ern­ment … to pro­tect es­tab­lished in­cum­bents at the ex­pense of an in­nov­at­ive com­pet­it­or.”

Once a loud stand­ard-bear­er for im­mig­ra­tion re­form, Ru­bio’s pivot to­ward tech is­sues ap­pears to sig­nal a new strategy with­in the GOP for how to res­on­ate with young, urb­an voters.

Ru­bio’s ad­u­la­tion of Uber fol­lowed a speech he gave at Google’s Wash­ing­ton of­fice, where he noted that ride-shar­ing re­stric­tions were something young voters cared about.

“For the first time, I see young people that po­ten­tially might be friendly to more gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment in our eco­nomy ar­guing against reg­u­lat­ory im­ped­i­ments to an ex­ist­ing busi­ness—in this case, gov­ern­ment crowding them out,” the fresh­man sen­at­or said.

A Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­wo­man said the pe­ti­tion was cre­ated without con­sult­ing Ru­bio, but the party has ap­par­ently caught wind of the Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an’s tech-first mes­sage.

Sev­er­al large cit­ies across the coun­try are grap­pling with how, or wheth­er, to change their taxi codes to ad­dress the grow­ing en­croach­ment of al­tern­at­ive trans­port­a­tion com­pan­ies, in­clud­ing Uber, Ly­ft, and Side­car.

The tim­ing of the pe­ti­tion co­in­cides with the GOP’s sum­mer meet­ing in Chica­go, where Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Demo­crat, is weigh­ing le­gis­la­tion on his desk that would cre­ate statewide re­stric­tions on ride-shar­ing com­pan­ies.

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